Monitoring The Health Of Bermuda’s Reefs

November 22, 2010

For centuries Bermudians have placed a high environmental and cultural value on the island’s reef system — the northernmost coral formations in the Atlantic Ocean.

Earlier this year a monetary value was placed on our protective reefs — calculating they provided $722 million annually in direct economic benefits through coastal protection from storms and hurricanes as well as supporting both the tourism industry and commercial and recreational fisheries.

On Saturday [Nov. 20] scientists at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences [BIOS] hosted its annual Marine Science Day, and amongst many topics showed how the East End research facility continually monitors the health of the island’s reefs. Below Rachel Evans, a research technician from Wales, explains the process BIOS uses to monitor the reefs:

In recent decades, at least 10 percent of the world’s tropical and subtropical coral reefs have been lost, BIOS has said. And of those which remain show signs of moderate to severe deterioration. The degradation of the world’s coral reefs has been caused by a host of human-related factors, including urban coastline development and habitat modification, pollution, nutrient and sediment overloading, direct destruction, and over-fishing.

These environmental pressures, along with natural phenomena, such as El Niño events, increase the susceptibility of corals to disease and bleaching, when corals lose their zooxanthellae partners. Bermuda’s reefs, however, remain surprisingly healthy and resilient.

bermuda coral reef

Last year BIOS oceanographer Dr. Andreas Andersson told Hamilton Rotarians Bermuda’s thriving coral reefs could act as a type of environmental early warning system for other reef systems as they would be the first to be damaged increasing acidification of the oceans.

“As the oceans continue to absorb carbon dioxide from human activities and become increasingly acidic, the coral reef of Bermuda will experience critical conditions before its counterparts in the Caribbean,” he said. “Hence, the coral reefs of Bermuda may act as the ‘canary in a coal mine’ in terms of the effect of ocean acidification on corals and coral reef ecosystems.”

[Photo courtesy of Dr Thad Murdoch]

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