Saving Jamaica's coral reefs

IDB, UWI undertake restoration project

Friday, June 05, 2015

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THE Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Centre for Marine Sciences (CMS) at the University of the West Indies will today, World Environment Day, launch a US$350,000-project aimed at restoring the island's coral reefs and ultimately providing applicable information and techniques to other countries in the region experiencing similar challenges.

The 18-month endeavour, dubbed the Coral Reef Restoration Project, will see the CMS undertaking a series of research activities to, among other things, mitigate coral depletion, and identify and cultivate species that are resistant to the ravages of the impact of climate change.

In addition to climate change stressors, the reefs are being depleted due to human-related factors such as population growth, over-fishing and pollution.

"We had always assumed that the reefs would recover naturally," said Marcia Creary, principal project investigator. "However, this productive and diverse ecosystem which is the source of food, medicine and coastal protection, is in jeopardy. The alarm has been raised, coral reefs need our help and they need it now."

Coral reefs, with their diverse range of marine plants and animals, are critical to much more than just the beautiful underwater vistas for which Jamaica and the wider Caribbean are famous. It is estimated that their depletion negatively impacts the productivity of fisheries, coastal protection, tourism and other related areas to a value of US$5 to US$11 billion per year.

Though limited in this initial execution to special nurseries on the island's north coast, the project is expected to provide information that will be invaluable to further reef restoration activities in the region.

Many recent studies have focused on documenting the status and decline of coral reefs, and CMS head, and project director, Prof Dale Webber, couldn't be more excited about leading the effort.

"This project is particularly intriguing because the situation with our corals has long been held as the 'worst-case scenario' - what not to do with a marine resource. Now those same corals may yet unlock the answers as to how the region's reefs may survive," Prof Webber said.

"The UWI is perfect for this project with the extensive resources available at its three marine laboratories at Discovery Bay, Port Royal, and Port Antonio. In addition to their regular research, teaching and outreach operations, the labs will be actively deployed in the various facets of this multidisciplinary undertaking," he continued.

The IDB is hoping that this project, which involves direct collaboration with Belize, where a similar activity is being simultaneously executed, will lead to the development of a reef restoration programme that will be widely applicable to the Caribbean region.

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