Returning to Belize: A first hand account


Image: Marine biologist Manuel returns to Belize for the first time in 4 years, he is pictured here with his team and the SVII camera.

 

Manuel Gonzalez-Rivero is the lead scientist of the Catlin Seaview Survey shallow reef research team. He spent a full year stationed in Belize at Glover’s Reef Research Station studying the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system.

Every time we perform a coral reef survey we hope to see a healthy reef, with plenty of big and small fish and a great diversity of coral. The last 30 years have been devastating for some areas of the Mesoamerican Reef (and coral reefs worldwide) with hurricane damage, coral bleaching, pollution and over-fishing causing mass coral reef destruction. However, while surveying in the Glover’s Reef area today, we experienced a pleasing sight.

A brief history of the area

I lived on the small island of Glover’s Reef Caye in 2009 whilst collecting data for my PhD. I dived the area around the caye every day for a year and became very familiar with the story of this part of the reef. In the 1980s, an outbreak of white-band disease attacked Glover’s Reef Caye destroying the hard coral Acropora (elkhorn and staghorn), one of the most important building blocks for highly detailed coral reefs.

When I arrived in 2009, the reef was in poor condition with a 75% decline in hard corals (since 1998) and the Acropora almost locally extinct. It was expected that with hard corals all but wiped out, sponges, which are very competitive, would take over, completely changing the face of the reef. However, macroalgae in the area grew so fast that it took over the sponges, again affecting the structure and inhabitants of Glover’s Reef.

What we saw today

Today when I dived in Glover’s Reef for the first time in four years, I expected to see the reef in a further state of decline. However, the health of the reef appears to have plateaued and the coral, which was almost lost in this area, has made a surprising re-emergence. We saw small clusters of Acropora, which after thirty years appear to be re-growing. I am excited about the possibilities for this reef and pleased to have had the opportunity to revisit and form comparisons of Glover’s Reef Caye over time.

 
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