The long-spined sea urchin, Diadema antillarum, was historically responsible for the maintenance of coral reef health throughout the Caribbean. However, in the early 1980s a disease reduced their populations by an average of 98% throughout the region, which stimulated the widespread macroalgal phase shifts that currently plague the Caribbean. Despite restoration of D. antillarum being a conservation priority there is still much we don’t know about their behaviour. Tela Bay in Honduras is home to a bizarre coral reef system called Banco Capiro, which is home to one of the only remaining healthy populations of urchin. Students on this project will be based here and have access to the laboratory facilities at Tela Marine Research Centre. The behaviour of D. antillarum individuals could be explored under controlled conditions in the lab, on the reefs themselves, or a combination of both. Of particular interest is to improve our knowledge of habitat preferences, feeding behaviour, and
*This project is predominantly lab based and therefore can be undertaken by non-divers, although additional data can also be gathered from dives.
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.