EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 3, 2013

Coral comeback


Phil Kramer, a marine geologist who is director of The Nature Conservancy’s Caribbean program, acknowledges that the long term outlook for coral reefs is poor in the face of current threats and projected increases in temperature and ocean acidification. But he says that can’t justify the “abandonment” of reefs.

“It is true that Caribbean reefs are generally in bad shape at the moment and that if more interventions are not taken we will continue to lose what remains. But I remain cautiously optimistic about the future,” Kramer said.

Helping the various restoration efforts, some regional governments are taking action to protect key species on the reefs. Belize, which boasts the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, has established bans on harvesting parrotfish, a colorful herbivore that grazes on the algae and seaweed that smothers coral.

By contrast, parrotfish are now the most popular catch in heavily-overfished Jamaica, sold at the side of the road and in supermarkets and restaurants.

Increasing sea surface temperatures have led to a dramatic rise in coral bleaching incidents in which the stressed organisms expel the colorful algae living in their tissues, leaving a whitish color. Up to 90 percent of corals in parts of the eastern Caribbean suffered bleaching in 2005, and more than half died.

But on Jamaica’s north coast, Dacosta says he is gradually seeing some balance restored to the Oracabessa Bay fish sanctuary where he works to transplant coral fragments and scoop up snails and worms from reefs. He says bigger fish and algae-grazing black sea urchins are seen more frequently.

“I tell you,” Dacosta said. “We should have started this a long time ago,”

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