Since 2008, Dr Robert Anderson of Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) has been leading a team of students all the way to the coral reefs in the near-shore waters of Grenada, West Indies. Under the tutelage of Dr Anderson, students survey the organisms at several different reefs around the island. Racine Zoological Society (RZS) and Milwaukee County Zoo (MCZ) staff had already been ascending Grenada’s volcanic ridges, up to elevations of 2,700ft above sea level in search of the island’s endemic tree frog. Finally in 2010 and 2011 Zoo staff joined the efforts of WLC and descended beneath the ocean’s surface with Dr Anderson and his students. The reef study focuses on five locations along the Southwestern coast of the island, two of which are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Permanent transects are established at each site and surveyors identify the organisms present along the transect. Video documentation of each transect is also collected to compare with observer results. Biodiversity and coral health are just some of the ways scientists gauge the overall health of a reef. Because the surveys are conducted in both protected and unprotected areas, information regarding the effectiveness of establishing further protected areas can be quantified and addressed. Results from these surveys have been presented to the Grenada Fisheries department, at international symposiums on the conservation of marine systems and can hopefully be applied to future conservation measures.
This study also encourages students to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the importance of these complex systems as they are directly engaged in conservation and research efforts. Coral reefs are a key part of the marine ecosystem. They are often referred to as the rainforests of the Oceans because they are home to a diverse wealth of life ranging from elegant squid and sea turtles to secretive eels and sea horses. They also serve as buffers for the shoreline and protection for young fishes. Surveys can monitor changes in reef health overtime. Reef systems require low nutrient water, and are extremely sensitive to changes in water temperatures. Changes in Global climate, overfishing and excessive waste dumping can have seriously adverse affects on reef systems.
As a consumer, you can also help in marine conservation. Initiatives like the Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch Program provide excellent guides for purchasing sustainably fished seafood. You can pick up a guide next time you visit the Racine Zoo or by visiting: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx. One of the most important measures we can take is to appreciate the beauty and importance of coral reefs. They are a treasure of biodiversity and have many a mystery yet to be discovered, hopefully for generations to come.