Reef Garden Provides Eco-tourism and Community Benefit
Thank you to Andrew Ross from Seascape Caribbean for giving me a tour of his coral nursery operation at Round Hill Hotel & Villas yesterday. Andrew started this project in Fall 2016 and has been transplanting corals onto the nearby reef ever since. He shared his vast knowledge on coral reef ecology, including the many different methods for "planting" young corals, and has a few related patents pending. For more information on Andrew's project, click here.
"This is the Round Hill Reef Garden, which is an extension of the landscape of the Round Hill resort into the sea," says Andrew. "This project provides enhanced opportunities for guests while improving fisheries and reef structure."
The ocean in Jamaica is common property, but in order to gain more management control, the Resort privately leased 7 acres of the reef for public resource benefit. Andrew is contracted to plant 5000 young corals onto the reef over a three-year period. The main nursery, which is just offshore from the local reef, primarily grows three fast growing, branching corals: Staghorn, Elkhorn and Prolifera, a hybrid of the first two.
Andrew faces a number of challenges to enhancing the reef, including reef damage from Hurricane Irma and persistent challenges related to chronic over-fishing. Without the Grouper, its common predator, Three Spotted Damselfish nest in coral colonies at expanded rates, spreading disease to the coral in the process. Coral and algae are in constant competition, and without enough fish and urchins to eat the latter, algae are overtaking the reefs. Andrew sometimes harvests overgrown algae from the rocks to re-establish this balance and open up space for coral growth. The local reef garden is not big enough to replenish local fish populations, but he hopes that local efforts to create Fish Sanctuaries could help to re-establish ecological balance in the local area.
Since 2011, the Jamaican Department of Fisheries has been actively seeking to development a marine protected area network for the island, including Fish Sanctuaries which prohibit all fishing. Such Marine Reserves create a sanctuary for fish populations to blossom, which provides more fishing opportunities outside the reserve boundaries. Jamaica has had mixed success establishing marine protected areas, in part due to a lack of buy-in from the local fishing community.
I am excited to visit a number of Fish Sanctuaries over the next week and explore success stories. Hopefully in the future more local people will step up and request their own local marine protected area.