A $650,000 three-year study to help determine which fish are most important to the health and survival of coral reefs has been launched in the Cayman Islands.
The research project will examine the prevalence and importance of different types of herbivorous fish, like colorful parrotfish and damselfish which help remove algae from Cayman’s coral reefs.
It is hoped that the study, a partnership between the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment and the Smithsonian Institution, will help policymakers better manage marine resources around the world.
The Darwin Plus initiative, which supports U.K. Overseas Territories to conserve areas rich in biodiversity, has granted CCMI and their project partners 249,096 pounds (CI$263,000), the largest award in CCMI’s history.
CCMI has contributed 375,746 pounds (CI$398,000) from private funding to fully develop the project.
Scientists started work last month, diving at 15 sites, that will include all three islands, to measure the biological diversity of fish, coral and algae populations.
According to a statement from the research center, “This is also the first time CCMI has conducted a regional expedition since their initial survey in 1999 and this project will build on that historical data, providing a 20-year perspective on how the reef populations have changed over time and across the country.”
The project, developed by Courtney Cox of the Smithsonian Institution, Carrie Manfrino and Alli Candelmo of CCMI, and John Bothwell of the DoE, seeks to understand which fish are key to maintaining coral reef health and will result in “recommendations for strategic biodiversity planning,” according to the statement.
It added, “Examining biodiversity across the islands and measuring the influence different fish species have on the overall state of the reefs will help the researchers identify the contributions different herbivores make to maintaining reef ecosystem balance.”
Ms. Manfrino, president of CCMI, said she has high hopes for the project.
“What is significant about this project is the role of the multiple partners – we all bring a different set of skills to the table, so we fully leverage the funds available to the project. We are pleased to be supported by the Smithsonian Institution and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment as collaborators as we seek to produce project results that can provide meaningful recommendations to protect the coral reefs in the Cayman Islands for the future.”