The spectacular coral reef chains of the Bahamas include the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world. Abaco’s reef system stretches from Little Harbour to beyond the northern end of the mainland, as Sandy Estabrook’s map shows. Inside the reef: the Sea of Abaco. Beyond the reef and the next landfall east: Western Sahara, south of the Canary Islands.
A rainbow effect of filtered sunlight on sea fans
Since the devastation of Abaco by Hurricane Dorian last September, a number of surveys have been carried out. Some of these relate to the impact of the storm on the natural world – the damaged forest and coppice, the bird-life including the Abaco specialities, and the marine life including marine mammals, fish, and reef structures and environments.
A recent assessment by the Perry Institute for Marine Sciences (PIMS) in Abaco and Grand Bahama waters has been carried out on the coral reefs to determine the extent to which the vulnerable structure, ecology and environment has been damaged. Some details have just been published in the Nassau Guardian in an article by Paige McCartney. The LINK is below.
DAMAGE FINDINGS IN BRIEF
25 – 30% of the 29 reef sites surveyed are devastated
factors include damage from debris, silt burial, and bleaching
uprooted casuarina trees were caught in the storm surge, causing damage
in particular, corals have been smashed and reef structure destroyed
there is biomass loss – basically reduced populations of fish & other organisms
RAYS OF LIGHT
Although the reef systems of both islands have been significantly damaged, in other areas little damage was found. Moreover, in some areas the storm had washed away some types of seaweed that are harmful to the reefs. The hope is that restoration of the damaged areas can be achieved with careful management.
WHAT CAN BE DONE NOW?
Action towards restoration and future protection includes:
removal of debris and other deleterious matter (eg silt)
cutting back the non-native, invasive casuarinas from the shoreline
restoration programs (recent successes with ‘coral farming’ could be vital)
extending marine protected areas
developing a rapid response protocol to meet extreme situations
The reports ends with some welcome news: Government departments have recently proposed putting $5 million towards a coral restoration project on Abaco, including the establishment of a and-based aquaculture facility to support coral growth in nurseries. Let’s hope that becomes a reality.
Spot the trumpetfish…
The publication of the PIMS report and its findings gives some hope of recovery for the fragile reef environment of the northern Bahamas. Other factors may reverse the optimism of course, not least the accelerating warming of the seas and the exponentially expanding pollution problem such as this, recently reported
This has been an opportunity to revisit the clear waters around Abaco where Melinda Rogers of Dive Abaco took these astonishing photos of coral on the local reefs. If the coral is destroyed or dies, this is what our children and their children will be be missing.
Click the brain coral to link to the Nassau Guardian Article
All photos, Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Map, Sandy Estabrook; Nassau Guardian / Paige McCartney; Perry Institute for Marine Sciences (PIMS)