The Caribbean’s newest research and education centre is nearing completion, with a number of studies on coral reefs already under way.
The Little Cayman Research Centre was initiated by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, an international non-profit organization, because of the opportunity for the reefs in Cayman to serve as a reference site for global studies on coral reef communities, said a press release from the CCMI.
Cayman’s reefs are in far better condition than at many sites worldwide, with Little Cayman one of the least developed islands in the region, the release said.
The facility is being developed under the direction of Dr. Carrie Manfrino, Associate Professor of Oceanography at Kean University, New Jersey.
Dr. Manfrino noted coral reefs are declining at frightening rates at most sites on earth. In the Caribbean, there have been major declines in coral cover in the past five years, she said.
‘Corals make up the primary structure of the reef and can therefore be used as an indicator of reef status or reef health,’ she said.
‘Because Little Cayman is far removed from certain types of human influences such as agricultural run-off, industrial pollution . . . and coastal development, the site is considered a reference site for research that has few confounding variables.’
Two PhD thesis research projects began in early June. One study is by Marilyn Brandt, a PhD candidate from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science – NCORE Project (National Center for Caribbean Coral Reef Research).
Her work will create the first model of how coral diseases are transferred on a reef. Disease has become one of the leading causes of coral death in the Caribbean.
‘With its low population and small size, Little Cayman provides the unique opportunity to document coral disease on a detailed level and to determine to what extent, if any, human development may influence disease in corals,’ she said.
The second research project is by University of South Florida PhD student, Lore Ayoub. Her research will look at the effects of ultraviolet and photosynthetically available radiation on corals and other reef organisms. Stresses produced by increased radiation on corals and increased sea surface temperatures often result in coral bleaching.
These stresses may also play a role in increasing the susceptibility to diseases, said Dr. Manfrino.
‘We are interested in the outcomes of both of these research projects because our reefs in Cayman can quickly become a site for developing a better understanding of the global issues facing coral reefs today,’ she said.
Meanwhile, the centre is gearing up for the CCMI’s sixth Caribbean Sea Camp for youth in July. Red Sail Sports has once again pitched in, donating 10 regulators that will be paired with last year’s contribution of BCDs.