Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bahamas: The Health of Andros Coral Reef Systems

Andros reef health is 'good'
Tribune Staff Reporter

CORAL reefs along the eastern coast of Andros are in good condition, according to American scientists from the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC), a United States Navy site located in Andros.

Researchers presented 2007 and 2008 findings on the health of Andros reef systems to a delegation of Bahamian and United States government officials, including acting Prime Minister, Brent Symonette and US Ambassador Nicole Avant.

"Live coral cover has remained stable over the past three years with a slight increase each year. Commercially significant fish biomass is three to four times higher than (in the wider) Caribbean," said Marc Ciminello, AUTEC scientist.

Mr Ciminello said they observed high levels of lion fish in their latest survey on the 34 monitoring locations; however, they found no changes in species diversity because of the presence of the lionfish.

These findings depart significantly from research previously reviewed by Bahamian authorities on lionfish. Neil McKinney, Board president for the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) referred to research conducted by Dr Mark Hixon, marine biologist and professor at Oregon State University. Dr Hixon's research indicates small reef fish populations can be slashed by up to 80 per cent within a short period of the introduction of lionfish.

Mr Ciminello could not account for the discrepancies. He said he was not aware of the study and would be interested in reviewing the data mentioned by Mr McKinney. The data and analysis from AUTEC's annual reef surveys are submitted to Bahamian authorities annually for use in setting management protocols.

Although the scientists said the reefs could be harmed by dropped anchors, debris, plastic and fishing line, Thomas Szlyk, one of the researchers, said the human impact to the Andros reef systems was minimal due to the low population density. He said so responding to questions about how the research has impacted resource management decisions in the past.

Earl Deveaux, Minister of Environment, said he did not completely agree. He pointed to the bridge in Fresh Creek, Andros, which is the only land-based crossing point between Red Bay and Behring Point. One of the AUTEC research sites is located near Fresh Creek. "The bridge at Fresh Creek is the only opportunity to cross in the part of Andros. So the 7,000 people who might want to take that drive pass that one bridge. I think that is a huge cumulative impact. And they have to pass London Creek, which is one of these roads built over creek systems without a culvert, so whatever gas, oil or pollution that would likely fall and whatever impact that road had must be more significant in that environment than it would ordinarily be," said Mr Deveaux.

In order to provide additional information that would be relevant to authorities, Mr Deveaux recommended the scientists include in their survey design next year indicators to determine the relationship between the coastal environment on land and the health of the reef systems.

"Is there a relationship between the volume of blue holes, the type of vegetation, the flow of the current in the terrestrial environment and what they find on the reef in terms of biomass, fish species and the variety of fish on the reef? If they could do that it would help influence our decisions. If they could put that in their research and document it then we would know over time how to influence our road building activities and our farming activities," said Minister Deveaux.

Preliminary data seems to indicate a correlation, according to the researchers. Mr Ciminello said they found that the "healthier sites" were in the vicinity of blue holes.

June 24, 2010