Coral reef islands (e.g. desert islands, sand cays) are globally unique and dynamic environments formed entirely from sediment produced by coral reef organisms. They provide socio-economic services for more than 700,000 people worldwide and are home to valuable habitats for a range of endangered species. However, low-lying reef islands are also considered to be extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, especially to sea-level rise and the degradation of the coral reefs that these islands are so reliant on. To predict how reef islands might respond to future environmental change, it is important to understand: (1) how they formed in the past, and (2) the key controls on their existence and evolution. This project is aiming to solve the mystery of how, when and why reef islands formed and evolved in the Caribbean. Students involved with this project will be among the first people globally to conduct research on these themes for Caribbean reef islands! Students will be involved with retrieving and decoding sediment cores from Utila sand cays to reconstruct the evolutionary history of these islands and identify what they are composed of. Students may also have the opportunity to conduct island topographic surveys using GPS and UAV (drones) technology to help understand the morphology and dynamic nature of the islands, and undertake ecological surveys on coral reefs surrounding each island to examine just how important the reefs are for the islands’ existence.
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.