PBPA 2014 coral reef assessment in a nutshell

Overview of the public seminar & 2014 PBPA reef health results in a nutshell

Suzanne & AchsahOn Wednesday 25th February 2015 we launched the results of the 2014 coral reef assessment of the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA). The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) hosted the public seminar at the Knutsford Court Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica. Attendees included representatives from the Centre for Marine Sciences (the University of the West Indies), Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), Urban Development Corporation (UDC), Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ), University of Technology, Jamaica (UTECH), among others.

Virtual divePhotographs can say a thousand words so what better way to start the seminar with a ‘virtual dive’ slide show comprising many photographs that we had taken during the surveys. This was followed by presentations on the coral and reef health (Suzanne Palmer) and an excellent  discussion of the fish data by Achsah Mitchell (MPhil, primary project fish surveyor). After providing the national context to the PBPA reef health data and associated recommendations we heard from Mr Charles Moodie (Old Harbour Fishing Beach). Mr Moodie has been our invaluable field support and boatman throughout the project. His personal comments and thoughts on the project provided some local context to the scientific data and proved to be fascinating and insightful.

What did we find?

  • Reasonable live coral cover when compared regionally. Highly variable across individual coral reefs and often dominated by opportunistic coral species (e.g. Porites astreoides). Reefs with higher coral cover also have large colonies of framework building species (e.g. Orbicella complex). Overall reasonably healthy corals with levels of recent partial coral mortality not considered to be stressful.
  • Highly variable macroalgae cover (PBPA overall average fleshy macroalgae 19.4%; PBPA overall average calcareous macroalgae 12.9%).
  • Very low relief coral reefs – low structural complexity largely to due to dominance of low-lying opportunistic species and rubble-dominated substrate. Reefs do have small areas with large coral outcrops and larger framework building coral species.
  • The long spined sea urchin (Diadema sp.) occurs in reasonable densities, however more are needed for effective grazing given the amount of macroalgae.
  • Very low fish biomass but very high fish density. The PBPA reef fish are dominated by large shoals of small fish (parrotfishes and surgeonfishes, also grunt), a large proportion of which are juvenile and not of reproductive age. Large sized fish are typically absent reflecting fishing pressures.
Drawing comparisons to other coral reefs is often complicated, largely due to differences in how the data was collected, terminology used, and the variation between reef systems.
Blue tangs
Blue tangs, Pigeon Island (Suzanne Palmer)

Regional: We have compared all our data from the PBPA to a regional database1 of surveys that use the same methodology. Overall the coral reefs are in reasonable condition and near to regional averages (coral and benthos). The exceptions are for fish biomass and fish size which are extremely low across PBPA reefs – there are a lot of fish (very high fish density) but they are generally all small. Whilst not the healthiest in the Caribbean they fair reasonably and are clearly far from the worst.


Orbicella annularis
Orbicella annularis, Pigeon Island

National: The PBPA reefs are typically patch to small fore reefs that grow within shallow waters (<11m, average 5.6m) with variable water clarity, and therefore differ to the extensive fringing coral reefs of the north coast in Jamaica. This is in part due to differences in geology and geography of the continental shelf around Jamaica – the PBPA reefs are located on the south coast where the continental shelf is wide. The PBPA reefs occur as patches or small fore reefs around cays and islands, whereas on the north coast the continental shelf is narrow and in places the reefs form deep reef walls. This results in differences, for example the types of reef, depth ranges, water clarity, and oceanographic currents. Differences aside, we compared the Porltand Bight reefs to 2013 NEPA2 survey data from selected marine parks around Jamaica (that used a modified Reef Check methodology, we used AGRRA) and found that they are comparable and in places fair better than some at the national level. The PBPA coral reefs are clearly important habitats to Jamaica and therefore it is crucial that they are protected and managed.

It is recommended that focus should be on: (1)    Maintaining and restoring coral reef habitats, and (2)    Restoring fish populations to ensure sustainable fisheries.

Click here for available resources. Full scientific report coming soon.

This project was made possible by a Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grant to Dr Suzanne Palmer.
Contributions & Acknowledgments:
Scientific reef survey team: Dr Suzanne Palmer, Achsah Mitchell, Kimani Kitson-Walters, Ivana Kenny; Project planning & facilitation: Centre for Marine Sciences, UWI: Marcia Ford, Professor Dale Webber; Boat and field support: Charles Moodie (Old Harbour Fishing Beach); Dive survey volunteers: Loureene Jones, Monique Curtis, Kayla Blake, Sean Green, Yannique Ewers; Field support and dive gear hire: Port Royal Marine Laboratory; Scientific data analyses: Dr. Suzanne Palmer; Dr Judith Lang (AGRRA); Kenneth Marks (AGRRA); Scientific interpretation: Dr. Suzanne Palmer; Dr Judith Lang (AGRRA); Salt River trip & project discussions: C-CAM: Brandon Hay; Scientific communication: Dr Suzanne Palmer; Dr Judith Lang; Dr Patricia Kramer; Achsah Mitchell; Jamaica Environment Trust; Underwater photography: Ivana Kenny, Dr Suzanne Palmer, Dr Michael Burn.
1AGRRA regional database 2011-2014: Jamaica (Pedro Bank), the Bahamas, Belize, Columbia, Honduras, Navassa, Mexico, St. Kitts/Nevis.
2NEPA (2014) Coral Reefs of Jamaica, An Evaluation of Ecosystem Health: 2013. NEPA, 15pp.