Stony Brook University: Tropical Marine Ecology Class, through the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences in Long Island New York.
Three professors and 7 students arrived on our island a couple of weeks ago to do some reef study, get certified to SCUBA dive (by our dive masters) and learn more about tropical marine environments first hand. The weather has not fully cooperated and it has been a little disappointing to spend 8 days shore-bound because waves and currents were just too rough. This course has been coming to our reef since around 2006. There is history with DBML as our founder Dr. Thomas Goreau is from Stony Brook.
This is an optional course, which is not closed to just Stony Brook students, but anyone who wants to pay for the course is welcome to take it. They currently have 3 specific projects of research happening in the reef. The first is a tile project which is comparing reef recruitment of three locations in the area: Pear Tree Bottom over by the Grand Bahia Principe Hotel, Dairy Bull and the outer side of the main outer reef. This was a piece of one of the professors Doctoral projects and they have been continually checking the tiles since ~2009.
Another ongoing project is a Benthic survey on the ocean side of the reef crest. They are looking at levels of macro-algae, coral cover and urchin populations. This project has been revisited since 2012.
The final project is passive acoustic recorders capturing soundscapes of the reef. They eventually added some short-term video recording to differentiate some of the sounds they picked up. A few sounds that have been identified are: parrot fish eating turtle grass, diadema (black sea urchins) eating algae off the coral. There is some research out there suggesting that fish larvae and/or coral larvae may use sounds to determine where to set down and grow.
Dr. Joe Warren has been coming here since 2008 and some insights he has about the bay are that since the specialized fisheries designation has taken place there are noticeably more fish around the reef and the size of the fish are getting larger. He believes that the measures put in were a step in the right direction to save not only the fish, but the fishermen’s future. He also notes that Pear Tree Bottom has noticeably more sedimentation than the other sites. This is near a newly constructed and expanding hotel, which might explain some of the excessive sedimentation they are seeing. Dairy bowl looks very good and there is a rise in the variety of invertebrates present in the area.
He also notes that the students love the food made by the lab kitchen staff. The students most often blog about the food in the school’s blog. Read it here!
Dr. Amber Stubler has been coming to Discovery Bay since 2009. The tiling project was part of the doctoral thesis project. The premise of the project is to see if the sedimentation from the artificial beach at the resort has had any significant impact on reef biotic recruitment. The fear is that the artificial beach is washing into the reef and depositing sediment that might negatively impact the growth of many types of organisms on the reef. This has been an ongoing project and she said her research is analyzing date from a multi-year data set.
Dr. Brad Peterson was at the inception of the course 11 years ago. The original idea was to have classes visit multiple Caribbean sites, but this location was so easy to work with and so accommodating that it became their only site. It also gave them better opportunity to work on long-term studies by sticking with one site to revisit with new groups yearly.
One thing that sticks out to him is the impact coming here has for the students. Driving from the airport near the resort areas and seeing all the beautiful tourist areas and then the further away they get the more apparent the poverty is here. The start contrast almost always makes a huge impact on the students. In 2013 or 14 the hurricane that struck Haiti affected the students that year so profoundly that they wanted to show support and help. The Haiti Marine Research Lab was destroyed by the hurricane and DBML helped orchestrate contact with the lab there and the students became very vested in that area because they understood for maybe the first time in their lives how fortunate they are.
He also notes that Dr. Stubler was one of his students in the class and she is now making arrangements to bring her own class to DBML for a research trip as well.
**Photos are from the blog: you.stonybrook.edu/tropical used with permission.