Global coral reef research and management remains heavily reliant on basic in water data collection by divers and snorkellers. However, data quality can vary enormously due to factors such as level of training, in water ability and observer bias. With the emergence of affordable underwater photography and videography, a new suite of techniques has become available to marine researchers that not only increases accuracy of data, but allows new questions to be addressed that would otherwise be impossible through traditional methods. Coral reef health can now be assessed using video transects, while cutting edge stereo-video surveys allow fish communities to be accurately assessed not only for abundance and diversity, but also the much more useful metric: biomass. Even more excitingly, a new collaboration between Opwall and Oxford University has developed a method of constructing accurate 3D computer models of areas of reef filmed using GoPro cameras. These models allow quantification of structural complexity, and have the potential to replace traditional benthic transect techniques. Students on this project will spend time carrying out each of the methods described above, conducting a thorough assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, to design an optimal approach for Caribbean reef monitoring for the modern era.
In the Caribbean there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of the reefs – including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive species originally from the Indo Pacific (lionfish) that acts as a predator on reef fish has been spreading across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has a series of monitoring sites around the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominica and Mexico) and two of those monitoring sites are in Honduras. One is on the island reefs of Utila and the second on the coastal barrier reef of Tela. The island of Utila is used to represent a typical modern Caribbean reef, whereas the mainland bay of Tela offers an alternative type of reef ecosystem, and they combine to help Opwall scientists explore the best ways to protect coral reefs throughout the region. At both sites, teams of Opwall scientists and students collect annual monitoring data to assess temporal patterns of ecosystem change, alongside novel research to address key management priorities and gaps in our current understanding of tropical marine coastal ecosystem function.
Our marine sites are hot and usually dry, but with occasional storms.
Fitness level required
Low. Some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities are comfortable but basic. There is phone signal and limited wifi that is often unreliable.