As a mesopredator, the Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus feeds upon a wide range of resources including many species of snail, crustacean and sea urchin, but is also predated by numerous larger reef dwelling organisms such as sharks, snappers and groupers. P. argus therefore sits at the centre of Caribbean coral reef food webs, meaning that changes in population size can lead to dramatic trophic cascades affecting the entirety of the reef system. As well as being ecologically important, lobsters are also hugely economically valuable, and it is estimated that over-harvesting has reduced P. argus populations by up to 50% in some parts of the Caribbean since the 1950s. Despite these dramatic population declines, P. argus has been assessed as ‘data deficient’ by the IUCN and is therefore afforded little protection. Caribbean spiny lobsters in Honduras have been largely neglected by the scientific community, but this project aims to redress this by using a combination of in-situ population surveys to assess their size-distribution structure and habitat selectivity, and lab-based experiments to investigate basic facets of their behaviour and physiology. We hope these data will ultimately be used to increase the degree of protection provided to the Caribbean spiny lobster and prevent further declines to their population sizes.
In the Caribbean, there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of the coral reefs – including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive species originally from the Indo-Pacific (lionfish) that acts as a predator on reef fish which has been spreading across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has two monitoring sites in Honduras: 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 of ecosystem change, alongside novel research to address key management priorities and gaps in our current understanding of tropical marine coastal ecosystem function.
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.