In the House of Assembly today [July 11], Minister of Health, Seniors and Environment Jeanne Atherden delivered a report on the state of health of the coral reefs found in Bermuda’s waters and the Caribbean, citing the report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network [GCRMN] released last week.
Minister Atherden said, “Last week saw the release of a landmark report on the health of coral reefs in the Caribbean over the past 40 years. Complied and published by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network [GCRMN], the report, entitled ‘Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012,’ looks at long-term changes in coral and fish populations across the region, and at the various environmental stressors that have impacted them.”
“Led by GCRMN scientific director Dr. Jeremy Jackson, the report analysed the largest set of coral reef data ever compiled, based on over 35,000 surveys carried out by more than 200 scientists working in 34 countries, states and territories throughout the wider Caribbean, including Bermuda.
“14 local and international scientists provided information on Bermuda’s coral and fish communities, along with a timeline of relevant environmental management measures and background information to help interpret the findings.
“The main finding of the report is that the amount of coral on reefs in the Caribbean region has declined by an average of 50 percent, as a result of many different factors, including overfishing, diseases, pollution, and the effects of increasing water temperatures associated with climate change.”
“However, there is also a message of hope, because a detailed look at the data shows wide variation in reef health that can be linked to the way in which the marine environment is managed at the local level.
“Key recommendations from the GCRMN report include reducing fishing pressure on parrotfishes and other reef herbivores across the region, addressing all the various threats to coral reefs at the local level through adaptive legislation, and continuing to monitor coral reef health and fish abundance with a view to sharing information and lessons learned with other marine managers.
“Bermuda was highlighted as one of seven locations where coral cover remained stable or improved over the study period. The good health of our coral reefs is of particular interest because Bermuda has one of the highest population densities of all the locations studied, coupled with large numbers of tourists for the size of the island, and these factors were generally associated with degraded reefs.”
Ian Murdoch at Hog Breaker
“The report’s authors credit the fish pot ban in 1990 and the listing of parrotfishes as protected species in 1993 as the key management measures that have promoted healthy herbivorous fish populations that keep seaweeds on the reef under control and allow the corals to flourish. Bermuda’s conservative approach to coastal development was also considered important.
“The report concludes that healthy reef communities are more resilient, and recover more quickly and effectively from events such as temperature-associated coral bleaching and hurricanes.
“Much of the long term data used for the Bermuda analysis came from research conducted initially by Dr. Robbie Smith, and then by Drs. Ross Jones, Joanna Pitt, Eric Hochberg, and Mr. Tim Noyes at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences [formerly the Bermuda Biological Station for Research], and were funded by the MacArthur Foundation and Bermuda Government Department of Environmental Protection [formerly the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries].”
Jessie Murdoch at Devil’s Flat
“Visiting scientists hosted by the Department of Conservation Services also contributed valuable research on coral diseases and juvenile fish populations
“A more recent broad assessment of the status of corals, marine plants, sea urchins and fish populations across the entire lagoon and fore-reef was provided by Dr. Thaddeus Murdoch as part of the Bermuda Reef Ecosystem Analysis and Monitoring [BREAM] programme, funded in part by research grants from Department of Conservation Services, UK Government OTEP programme, NOAA, and the Stempel Foundation, with the support of the Bermuda Zoological Society.”
Healthy Bermuda corals
Dr. Carl Lundin of the Marine and Polar Programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said of the report, “All too often, our fixation on the future threats of climate change has resulted in neglecting the things we can actually fix on a local basis.
“We need to take a reef-by-reef, island-by-island, region-by-region approach to the local issues as we struggle to cope with the larger-scale problem of curbing the use of fossil fuels.”
“Our reefs are one of our most important resources, they support our local fisheries, provide unique tourism opportunities and provide vital protection for the island during storms. Although the fish pot ban was highly controversial at the time, it is clear that this move has helped to maintain the health of this vital and valuable ecosystem.
“While our reefs may suffer from factors we cannot control it is heartening to see that, as a country, we can make hard choices when necessary for the benefit of future generations. As such it is with pleasure I bring good news about one of nature’s wonders and a key asset that many of us may take for granted.”
- All photos courtesy of Dr Thaddeus Murdoch, Chief Scientist, Bermuda Zoological Society