On coral reefs, the cleaning behaviour of certain species provides a vital ecological service to the wider reef fish community. It also gives a fascinating insight into how different species interact mutualistically in such a hyperdiverse ecosystem. In the Caribbean, cleaning is performed by both fish (primarily gobies) and invertebrates (primarily the Pederson cleaner shrimp, Ancylomenes pedersoni). Cleaner species occupy cleaning stations that are sought by client fish who perform set behaviours in order to initiate cleaning. The dynamics of these interactions are complex and span the taxonomic spectrum of the reef fish community, with Pederson cleaner shrimp alone known to service over 20 families of fish. Students will use SCUBA diving, first to map the cleaning stations present on a reef, and then to deploy remote underwater video cameras to film the natural behaviour at cleaning stations in the absence of divers. Projects could focus on drivers of client composition, or how cleaning frequency and duration varies between client species. Alternatively, projects could explore the role of habitat, structural complexity and environmental variables on cleaning station densities and distributions.
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 if including in-water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities are comfortable but basic. There is phone signal and limited wifi that is often unreliable.