Friday, June 5, 2015

Multimillion Dollar IDB Project to save Jamaica’s Coral Reefs

The UWI Mona’s Centre for Marine Sciences (CMS), has been selected by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to execute a US$350,000 project aimed at restoring the islands coral reefs, and ultimately expected to provide information and techniques applicable to other countries in the region experiencing similar challenges. The project, slated to be launched this Friday June 5, World Environment Day,  is dubbed the Coral Reef Restoration Project, and will see the CMS undertaking a series of research activities to, among other things, identify and cultivate species of coral that are resistant to the ravages caused by the impact of climate change.

Reef Restoration in 6 steps.
Since many recent studies have focused on documenting the status and decline of coral reefs, CMS Head, and Project Director, Prof Dale Webber is excited about leading the effort to provide critically needed solutions. “This project is particularly intriguing because the situation with our corals has long been held as the ‘worst case scenario’ – what not to do with a marine resource. Now those same corals may yet unlock the answers as to how the region’s reefs may survive.”

Consisting of diverse collections of marine plants and animals, coral reefs are critical to much more than just the beautiful underwater vistas for which Jamaica and the wider Caribbean are famous. It is estimated that the depletion of the region’s coral reefs negatively impacts the productivity of fisheries, coastal protection, tourism and other related areas to a value of US$5 to $11 billion dollars per year.

“We had always assumed that the reefs would recover naturally,” said Marcia Creary, Principal Project Investigator, “however, this productive and diverse ecosystem which is the source of food, medicine and coastal protection, is in jeopardy. The alarm has been raised, coral reefs need our help and they need it now.”

In addition to climate change stressors the reefs are being depleted due to human-related factors such as population growth, over-fishing and pollution. The project seeks to identify ways to mitigate this depletion by first identifying corals that have shown to be naturally resistant and then, undertaking their propagation and restoration.  Though limited in this initial execution to special nurseries on the island’s north coast, the project is expected to provide information that will be invaluable to further reef restoration activities in the region.

A large component of the undertaking will see the engagement of the private and public sectors as well as the general public.  School campaigns, technical and community workshops and a private sector symposium are all slated for execution as part of the eighteen month endeavour. This is in keeping with the kinds of activities that the CMS normally undertakes, with its award-winning Discovery Bay Marine Lab scheduling regular reef tours and an annual Eco-Camp for students, as well as other activities with the ultimate aim of preserving the marine environment, through encouraging better care by the Jamaican population.

“The UWI is perfect for this project with the extensive resources available at its three marine laboratories at Discovery Bay, Port Royal, and Port Antonio. In addition to their regular research, teaching and outreach operations, the labs will be actively deployed in the various facets of this multidisciplinary undertaking” Webber explained.

The IDB is hoping that this project, which involves direct collaboration with Belize where a similar activity is being simultaneously executed, will lead to the development of a reef restoration programme that will be widely applicable to the Caribbean region.

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