Caribbean Coral Reef Ecology Class @DBML

In April 2016 we ran a weekend field course at Discovery Bay Marine Lab for our final year Caribbean Coral Reef Ecology class #UWIMona #Jamaica

2016 Caribbean Coral Reef Ecology Class @DBML

For many years groups of international marine biology students have been visiting Discovery Bay Marine Lab, Jamaica for field courses. This year we wanted to get our class there too and so Dr. Suzanne Palmer and Dr. Dayne Buddo designed a weekend field trip for the final year undergraduate course Caribbean Coral Reefs (at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica through the Department of Life Sciences).

In April 2016 the whole class (41 students) spent four days working at the marine lab.

Class of 2016!

BIOL3409 Class 2016

Snorkel + GoPro to check out the coral reefs …

We had spent the previous few weeks of the semester doing field trips on the south coast of Jamaica from Port Royal Marine Laboratory out on the Port Royal Cays to learn about some of the basics in coral reef ecology plus training and practise in AGRRA surveying. Being based at Discovery Bay for the field course provided a great opportunity for the students to broaden their experience and check out their taxonomy skills across a north coast coral reef. In addition, they assessed the range of different coral nurseries implemented at Discovery Bay and viewed outcrops of the hybrid coral Acropora prolifera for the first time

Back to the lab…
Photo credit: Dexter Colquhoun
Photo credit: Dexter-Dean Colquhoun

Back at the lab the class were trained and got the opportunity for hands-on coral restoration techniques following the methods carried out by the curent Coral Reef Restoration Project, in addition to CPCe analyses for coral, reef, and coral nursery monitoring.

Near the end of the field course we conducted an in-water coral identification test out on the reef with a marked course of tagged corals – logistically quite a challenge to set-up and execute!

What the students thought!
Despite having seemed daunting at the beginning of the course, the weekend trip to Discovery Bay Marine Lab has proven to be one of the milestone moments of my final year experience. 

The sessions were well organized and seamlessly executed. The in water examination went very well, seeing many different types of corals at one location for the first time in the water. I was very excited to have received experience in the water and on different marine environments. The presentation brought to light the major challenges and importance of coral reef restoration as well as the exciting Science behind it. 

The dolphins on Sunday were truly the best highlight of the trip, second only to the closeness and comradery felt among classmates. The actual experience was crucial to cementing course information and appreciating more of our natural Jamaican environment.

Gavin Campbell, BIOL3409 Course Representative
I truly enjoyed my experience at D-Bay Marine lab. It was a fascinating, enlightening and fun experience. The workload was heavy but I didn't mind because I believe it prepared me for the real world beyond undergraduate studies.

Over the weekend I learned a great deal about the history and threats to coral reefs in the Caribbean region. Also, I learned of the various methods employed to restore and prevent complete loss of coral reefs. I got the opportunity to try some of these restoration methods. It was great to get that hands on experience as it granted me a chance to see how some of the techniques and theories taught in class applied to real life.

In the end I left with a heightened interest for marine biology, greater confidence in the water, and deep respect for those already in the field who are working to save and restore our coral reefs. I hope to work alongside them one day.

Jason Champagnie, BIOL3409 Class 2016


A mammoth weekend and a wonderful team effort! Thank-you to all my colleagues in the Department of Life Sciences, PhD students Kimani and Dexter, and the staff at Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory who made this trip happen, and of course to BIOL3409 Class of 2016 for all your hard work and enthusiasm! A very rewarding course and we are looking forward to next year!



2015 Annual Fisherman’s Day Conference

Suzanne, Achsah and Kimani present at the 2015 Jamaica International Fisherman’s Day Conference

Fishermans conference - program cover

On Wednesday 1st July 2015, Dr Suzanne Palmer, Kimani Kitson-Walters, and Achsah Mitchell presented at The Annual Jamaica International Fisherman’s Day Conference. The meeting was hosted by the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), The Jamaica Fishermen Cooperative Union Limited, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and held in Clarendon.

C-CAM reported that over 160 people registered, of which there were 131 fishermen and women from 15 different fishing beaches across Jamaica.


Theme of the Conference – “the Future of Fisheries is in our Hands”

The conference was chaired by Ms Ingrid Parchment (Executive Director of CCAM) with a panel that included Mr Andre Kong, Director, Fisheries Division, Mr Dermon Spence (Chief Technical Director, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries), Shawn Taylor (Chairman, Jamaica Fisherman Coop Union), and Sydney Francis (Chairman, The All Island Fisheries Development Alliance) (see photo below).

Fishermans conference 2015_3

The conference gave the opportunity for fishermen and women to ask questions or make comments to the panel – this was not about presenting and defending science like many conferences but people discussing and defending their livelihoods. The many questions that were fired at the panel (and Suzanne!) revealed their knowledgeable insight into Jamaica’s Fisheries. They expressed passionate often aggravated concern that their standpoint should form and influence the decisions and policies underpinning Fisheries Management in Jamaica.

Our Presentation and Discussion – reef health and possible solutions (PBPA and Jamaica)

cover slide

Fishermans conference 2015
Suzanne at the Fisherman’s Conference (Photo: CCAM)

Suzanne was invited to present at the Conference to share the findings of the 2014 coral reef assessment of the Portland Bight Protected Area (south coast of Jamaica) which was funded by a Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grant.  Previous presentations of this recent assessment have focused on presenting the science, and providing extensive scientific evidence as to why the PBPA is an important marine area and needs to continue to be protected and not developed as a transhipment hub/port. However, here there was the opportunity to discuss the importance of the findings to fishermen and their livelihoods, and how the results can be used to inform Fisheries Management in Jamaica.

The Achilles heel in Jamaica’s reef fisheries?

Some of our key findings highlighted the extremely low fish biomass that is characteristic of many Jamaican reefs – continuing as we are is clearly not sustainable. Parrotfish and surgeonfish graze on algae and therefore have an important role on the reef by helping to maintain the balance between coral and algae. The targeted overfishing of parrotfish and surgeonfish has been identified as a key issue in the decline off Caribbean coral reef health, and over the last couple of years many countries in the region have implemented fishing bans and policies on the catch of parrotfish.

What about Jamaica? Well, Jamaican’s love to eat parrotfish! Our suggestions to enforce the catch of parrotfish (anything from bans, to size of catch, to zoning, etc.) proved controversial and were met with strong resistance. Two key issues: (1) If they don’t catch parrotfish what do they catch? (2) The strong market demand for parrotfish. A fishermen at the Conference commented that recent rough seas resulted in less parrot and so they only caught snapper, however he seriously struggled to sell them as people only wanted parrot.

Kimani Kitson Walters (PhD candidate in Marine Biology and Biotechnology at The University of the West Indies), describes his thoughts & experience:

“Attending the 2015 International Fisherman’s Conference in May Pen, Clarendon for me was an eye opening experience. It provided a journey into the mind of a Jamaican fisherman and their perception on the future of the Jamaican Fishing Industry. I found them to be very passionate with an immense desire to improve their financial situation. They are very protective of their livelihood but aren’t willing to recognize that fish populations and consequently their source of income are under threat due to the lack of suitable habitat. The Fishermen are all for implementing practices that secure sustainable fishing however those methods which they are not able to comprehend or interfere with their potential income such as the banning of the the fishing of Parrotfish is met with a lot of resistance. If they are made to fully understand the reasons for implementing these methods which have been proven to work, we are a lot closer to restoring our reefs habitats and mature fish populations. Doing it holistically and not just from one perspective.”

This was an excellent opportunity for us to share our findings of the PBPA reef assessment, but we also hope that they offered food for thought and a different perspective to thinking about some of the serious challenges that Jamaica’s Fisheries are experiencing. In doing so we are playing our part in strengthening the link between science, fisheries livelihoods, and fisheries management/policy in Jamaica.

Many thanks to Achsah and Kimani for their excellent presentation at the Conference, and their commitment and dedication as team members throughout this project.


Marine conference in Curaçao – AMLC2015

Last month Suzanne attended the Association of Caribbean Marine Laboratories (AMLC) 37th Scientific Meeting in Curaçao to present the results of the 2014 coral reef assessment in the Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica

Last month Suzanne (Palmer) attended the Association of Caribbean Marine LaboratoriesAMLC (AMLC) 37th Scientific Meeting which was held at the Carmabi Research Station in Curaçao. Curaçao is one of the three islands that form the Netherland Antilles (the other two being Bonaire and Aruba).

Conference presentation: Suzanne had the opportunity to present the results of the 2014 coral reef assessment of the Portland Bight Protected Area (south coast of Jamaica) which was funded by a Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grant.  There was a good response to the talk and surprise over some of the results, for example, the reasonable condition of the corals and relatively high density of fish, but extremely low fish biomass when compared regionally. This was interesting to a number of coral reef scientists who have largely been based at  the Discovery Bay Marine Lab and so are more familiar with the reefs on the north coast of Jamaica. The conference offered the opportunity to inform international marine scientists on the importance of the Portland Bight Protected Area, the status and presence of the coral reefs in the PBPA, and why there needs to be continued  protection (and not developed as a transhipment hub/port).

Suzanne @AMLC2015
Suzanne @AMLC2015 (photo Denise Henry)

The conference provided an excellent opportunity to network with people working on coral reefs in the Caribbean Region and it is anticipated that a number of interesting collaborations have been created. Interestingly, ~50% of participants to the Association of Caribbean Marine Laboratories conference were in fact from the U.S., and so would like to hope that there are strong links between the US scientists and the Caribbean Region beyond fieldwork.

Stoplight parrotfish (photo Michael Burn)

Coral reefs around the Netherland Antilles

Diving around Curaçao and Bonaire was initially surprising after spending the past few years in Jamaica due to the size and number of reef fish. The parrotfish are enormous (compared to Jamaica) and the fish do not appear too bothered by divers so there is a real chance to observe their behavior! Bonaire’s coral reefs have some of the highest coral cover in the region (e.g. 2010 report) and often described as some of the last ‘healthy’ reefs in the region, however, like many other Caribbean reefs they are not without their problems and challenges (e.g. Report after 2010 coral bleaching event). Bonaire comprises mainly shore dives and is referred to as “Divers Paradise” – which is also written on the islands vehicle registration plates! You don’t see too many fishing boats like many other Caribbean islands, and tourism is extremely important to these small islands (Curacao and Bonaire are very small islands – together their total area represents ~7% of the area of Jamaica!).

Jolthead porgy (photo Michael Burn)

A couple of things we found interesting on our trip to Curaçao (after living in Jamaica 5+ years):

Multiple languages spoken

In Curaçao a number of languages are spoken with Dutch being the official language used for admin and legal use, and the most widely spoken being Papiamento which is a Portuguese creole language – it has a real Spanish/South American sound to it.

Curaçao’s Floating Market

The whole island reminded us of the Hellshire Hills dry limestone forest in Jamaica with lots of cactus & not too hospitable for growing fresh produce! The Floating Market in Willemstad comprises colorful boats from Venezuela and Columbia lined up providing fresh fruit and vegetables to the local market.

Iguana on patio!
Green iguana (photo Michael Burn)

Iguanas are everywhere

In Jamaica we are familiar hearing about the critically endangered Jamaican iguana and reading about the fantastic work of the various groups who have been fundamental in saving and protecting this species. So when we arrived in Curaçao and iguanas were strolling around the garden, across roads, and referred to as nuisances….and are on the menu (!), we were rather surprised!

Certainly an interesting trip and provided some insight into the cultural, economic, and environmental diversity between Caribbean islands.

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 ( 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: and listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered species

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 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 (

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!


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.