As a mesopredator the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) feeds on a wide range of prey including snails, crustaceans and sea urchins, but is also itself predated by larger reef dwelling organisms such as snappers, groupers and sharks. 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 entire ecosystem. 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. Lobsters in Honduras have been largely neglected by the scientific community, but this project aims to redress this by using a combination of population surveys by SCUBA diving to assess their size-distribution structure and habitat selectivity. This project has now been running for several years, allowing changes in lobster populations over time to be addressed. 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 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.