Under natural conditions the long-spined sea urchin, Diadema antillarum, is the most important herbivore on Caribbean coral reefs and is therefore considered a keystone species. However, a disease in the 1980s caused the death of an estimated 98% of individuals throughout the region. This mass mortality event had a devastating effect on reef health, driving subsequent phase shifts to algal dominated benthic communities. Recovery has been extremely limited, with populations on most reefs still severely depleted, and Utila island is a classic example of this. Remarkably, the Banco Capiro reef system in Tela Bay has a population density of D. antillarum at astonishingly high levels. It also boasts extremely high cover of live healthy coral, despite historical overfishing leading to a complete collapse of the fishery. Since its recent discovery, Operation Wallacea scientists began detailed population studies in 2013 which have continued annually ever since. Students on this project will continue collecting this long-term dataset, and will have access to historical data where needed. The primary objective is to quantify changes in the abundance and population structure of D. antillarum, its competitors and its predators, on the reefs of Utila and Banco Capiro, as well as assessing the reef health at both locations.
If you would like to do a dissertation or thesis with us but your university hasn’t started dissertation planning or the project selection process, that’s no problem. You can cancel your expedition with zero cancellation charges up until the 15th of April of if you provide documentation from your university saying that they won’t support completing a dissertation project with us.
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.