Cayman Islands. Major support given to CCMI to help understand effects of Climate Change on Coral Reefs.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Guy Harvey, Royal Caribbean Cruises and The Image Group Onboard to Assist CCMI

Understanding how the world¹s oceans are being affected by changes in climate is a global scientific priority. In the Cayman Islands, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) is teaming up with the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd¹s Ocean Fund, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Image Group to establish a unique reference site where the relationships between climate change and coral reef stress can be measured directly.  The project is being headed up by CCMI¹s Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Carrie Manfrino, Associate Professor of Oceanography at Kean University.

Scientific models indicate that rising temperatures and sea levels, increasing storm intensity and changes in the ocean¹s chemistry will stress coral reefs beyond sustainability.  In the shallowest most productive part of the ocean, measurable increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide are expected to interrupt important biological processes that build the skeletons of myriad marine plants and animals.  These chemical reactions are changing the pH of the water and the resulting ocean acidification is one of the greatest threats to marine life yet encountered in the history of our planet.

The delicate skeletons of corals, plankton, and even marine algae are made of calcium carbonate. Corals provide the architectural structure for reefs and create the intricate labyrinth that is home to the highest biological diversity in the ocean.  Just as it would be impossible to build a house without a framework, a reef relies on corals for it structure.

Laboratory and controlled experiments show that these changes in the ocean¹s chemistry reduce the capability of  marine organisms to maintain and produce their skeletons. These predictions need to be tested at a relatively healthy open ocean coral reef site. The outcome of our work will be to improve the quality of information that is available about the risks that changing climate presents to communities that rely on healthy coral reefs.

The Central Caribbean Marine Institute¹s field station on Little Cayman maintains the region¹s only permanently moored oceanographic monitoring station - the Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS), is an instrument conceived by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continuously measure ocean conditions.  Newly designed instruments to measure ocean acidification will be installed on the CREWS and ecological experiments, designed to test whether corals are capable of regenerating, will be conducted.  The flat, pure limestone nature of Little Cayman; the extraordinarily low human population (< 200); plus well-developed coral reefs surrounding this isolated oceanic island make this an exceptional site for this study.  This project will establish a much needed long-term record of the fluctuations in ocean chemistry at CCMI¹s Little Cayman site.

Studies of the primary structural organisms on reefs including the juvenile coral community will evaluate the level of stress using such indicators as reduced growth rates, changes in the density of skeletons, coral bleaching and declines in recruitment and survival of juvenile corals.

The data collected will gain an insight into the immediate effects of the changes on coral and will help reef managers understand these threats so that they can more effectively conserve coral reefs and their associated flora and fauna.

The communication of the findings of the studies to the general public and young students enrolled in CCMI¹s many education programs is of paramount importance.  By disseminating the information we will provide a wider understanding of this critical issue and how to manage it into the future.

The CCMI research facility at Little Cayman and the partnership with RCCL¹s Ocean Fund, The Image Group and The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation provide an opportunity to achieve these goals.

Additional Information

This project builds on our current partnership with NOAA on the Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) pylon that we installed just north of the

Little Cayman Research Centre in 2009.   The Little Cayman CREWS station

currently measures temperature at several depths, photo-synthetically active radiation and UV radiation in the ocean, and atmospheric conditions and broadcasts this information in near-real-time.

About CCMI

With over 10 years of environmental leadership in the Cayman Islands, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute is invested in understanding the factors that lead to coral reef sustainability and to the factors that are stressing this ecosystem.  The Central Caribbean Marine Institute is an international non- profit organization with a mission of sustaining marine biological diversity through research, education, conservation and outreach.    We think that success in environmental protection relies on long-term data collection and analysis, excellence in reporting and communicating results, and in inspiring environmental stewardship through education and outreach programs. CCMI¹s goal is to lead innovative research that provides answers to the major issues facing coral reefs and our work makes us an important Caribbean oceanographic resource that provides the data and insight to address current issues facing coral reefs. Since its early years, CCMI has proven a valuable asset to the effort of understanding factors that lead to coral reef stress and sustainability.   Our research and education programs have established a solid foundation in coral reef education and awareness in the Caribbean.

A key component of the organization¹s strategy was realized in 2006 with the opening of the Little Cayman Research Centre which offers a unique and important reference site for tropical research.   Since opening, over 75

scientists from 7 countries have worked on a wide range of topics.  Examples of results include the major recent discovery (July 2011) of 15 new species of meiofauna (microscopic Gastrotriches living between sand particles and processing nutrients in the reef), measurements showing high levels of coral regeneration, and the successful reduction of Lionfish populations in Bloody Bay Marine Park.

About Guy Harvey and the GHOF

Guy Harvey is a world renowned marine artist, conservationist, author, angler and diver who holds a Ph.D. in Fisheries Biology from the University of the West Indies. He has resided in Grand Cayman for 12 years. Because of his success as an artist, Dr. Harvey has been able to help conserve our marine resources by founding the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) in 2008.

The GHOF funds inspired scientific research and innovative educational programs to encourage conservation and best management practices for sustainable marine environments. The GHOF will help ensure that future generations will enjoy and benefit from a naturally balanced ocean ecosystem where fish and other marine wildlife flourish.

Last Updated ( Monday, 25 July 2011 )