Coral reefs are complex ecosystems that are vital to the food security and livelihoods of local communities. Of particular importance are three key characteristics: (1) the underlying physical structure of the reef which provides habitats for a diverse community of animals, (2) the community of plants and invertebrates, such as corals, living attached to the surface of the reef (known as the benthic community) which both creates the physical structure and forms the basis of the reef’s food web, and (3) the fish community which both relies on and helps sculpt the benthic community, whilst also providing a major source of protein to local human populations. Traditionally, these three characteristics of a reef have been studied using basic methods based on diver observations in the water, and although more technology-driven alternatives have recently emerged, they are yet to be combined into a single unified approach that addresses all three characteristics to provide a snapshot of an area of reef. Students on this project will use multiple underwater videography techniques whilst SCUBA diving. They will then use state-of-the-art computer 3D modelling to measure the structural complexity of the reef, stereo-video analysis to assess the fish community structure and biomass, and machine learning algorithms to estimate the benthic community structure and overall reef health. Historical data also exists for both fish and benthic assessments, annually since 2012, allowing a temporal element to be added.
In the Caribbean, there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of coral reefs, including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive predator (lionfish) originally from the Indo-Pacific that has spread across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has two marine research sites in Honduras where these issues and many more are studied: one is on the island reefs of Utila and the second on the coastal barrier reef of Tela. At both sites, teams of Opwall scientists and students collect annual monitoring data to assess temporal patterns in reef community health, alongside novel research to address key conservation priorities and gaps in our current understanding of these fragile ecosystems. Honduras is also home to Opwall’s pioneering efforts to integrate technological solutions into the monitoring and study of coral reefs, including our 3D computer modelling method. Opwall’s team of marine scientists in Honduras helps to support not only international academic research and new method development, but also supports local non-governmental organisations with their efforts to improve marine conservation in Honduras.
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.