AGRRA Reef surveys in the Portland Bight Protected Area

Updates & photos from 2014 coral reef surveys in the PBPA funded by a Waitt Foundation ROC Grant

The plan to establish a transhipment port within the largest protected area in Jamaica is controversial, however, it is unclear which marine ecosystems could be threatened or lost by the potential development. This project aims to provide a scientific assessment of the status and condition of coral reefs within the Portland Bight Protected Area which is funded by the Waitt Foundation 2014 Rapid Ocean Conservation Grants Program.

Hover over photos for caption, click on photos to enlarge. Photos by Ivana Kenny.

The main reef sites can be seen in the map below. Across each reef we have multiple survey sites in order to fully represent the coral reef zones and subtypes. We are using the AGRRA method (http://www.agrra.org/) to determine coral reef condition. This includes taking detailed measurements of the corals species (e.g. size and condition), quantifying the main algal types, and determining the abundance and size of key fish species.

Image from Google Earth (click to enlarge)

 

Our first surveys: Wreck Reef

Earlier in June (08.06.14) we made it out to Wreck Reef for the 1st official AGRRA survey of the project. Heading out from Port Royal Marine Laboratory, Mark Golding and Terrence dropped us right on the reef.  The team headed off in their pairs to collect data with one pair performing fish surveys, another coral surveys, and a third benthic surveys. The weather had been blowing for a good few days so visibility was not great. Check out the photos below of the Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) and also the Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis).  The Staghorn coral is an endangered species within the Caribbean region (see: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/invertebrates/staghorncoral.htm) and listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered species http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/133381/0.

We had hoped to head out to Tern Cay but the weather was against us so we headed back to the marine lab and started data entry fueled by granola bars and bags of peanuts!

 

Weekend in Salt River – Pigeon Island and Big Pelican Cay

On Friday (13.06.14) evening we arrived at C-CAM’s base on the Gun Site in Salt River and were welcomed by Brandon Hay, CCAM’s Scientific Officer and the PBPA Fish Sanctuaries Manager. Brandon told us that the winds had been blowing strong and unfortunately they continued to blow throughout the night. 4am we were on the dock setting up our gear ready for an early start out to Pigeon Island. No time to Waitt for the weather! Joined by Mr Charles Moodie from Old Harbor we headed out to Pigeon Island. The following day we headed out from Old Harbor on fishing canoes to Big Pelican Cay, again the weather was not on our side so we carried out surveys across the sheltered back reef.

 

Best weather so far – revisiting Big Pelican Cay!

After so many rough days and cancellations I was pleased that we had a successful survey day on Sunday (29.06.14). We were on the water at 6am heading out from Old Harbor to Big Pelican Cay with Mr Charles Moodie and his friend on their fishing canoes. The reasonable weather allowed us to do surveys on the exposed shallow forereef (Big Pelican Cay East) and to the west of the cay (Big Pelican Cay West).

After refuelling with Bulla and water we headed off to Big Pelican West a narrow shallow spur where we came across numerous colonies of the Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata). In places there were over 10 Elkhorn coral colonies within a square area of 10 metres – not a particularly common sight in Jamaica. The Elkhorn coral was formerly one of the most dominant species found within shallow parts of Caribbean reefs (~1-5m water depth) providing a structural framework for invertebrates and fish, however, since the 1980’s there has been a reported loss of 90-95% of this species due to a multitude of factors including coral disease (see http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/invertebrates/elkhorncoral.htm). The species is listed as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act and is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/133006/0).

Over the next few weeks we’ll be out surveying whenever we have the weather windows. Look out for our next blog post to hear more about what we are finding.

Great job team, fingers crossed for good weather next weekend so we can get back to Pigeon Island!

Acknowledgements:

Special thanks to the continued commitment and efforts of the survey teams, including Ivana Kenny for the excellent photos! Particular thanks to Dr Judith Lang for her constant support and guidance, not to mention providing a wealth of on-hand remote scientific expertise. Thank-you to Mr Charles Moodie and friend at Old Harbor who are our excellent boatmen and field support. Our thanks are extended to Hugh Small and the Port Royal Marine Laboratory team for all their efforts in facilitating the trips, and to Brandon Hay for helping to organise our Salt River trip. Thank-you to the Jamaican Environment Trust for disseminating the work we are doing which was made possible by the Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grants Program.