Our last field trip was to the archipelago of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side. This trip was one of my favorites because Bocas will soon be my new research area, and the lectures and field activities were very rewarding.
For our first snorkeling immersion we visited, with Aaron O’dea, one reef where the main component was some patches of Acropora cerviconis. The population of this species, which once was relatively common from Florida to Venezuela, had been collapsing since the 80’s due to different threats like disease outbreaks, mainly of white band disease, algae overgrowth and human impact. This decreasing of this species happened to be around the same time of the mass mortality of the sea urchin Diadema antillarium which is an algae grazer in reefs, and usually is helpful to create space for coral recruits.
From my perspective, the reef in that particular immersion didn’t seem very healthy. There were only a couple of patches where other fish could be seen swiming with the few damselfishes found throughout the reef. This made me think a lot about the “shifting baseline,” a concept that usually crosses my mind due to the all the environmental changes that are happening now, and also about how fast these changes are happening, and what we can do to preserve or restore the coral reef ecosystem, so that we may share it with generations of humans, fishes, sponges, and sea urchins to come.
Later during the same trip Nancy Knowlton mentioned something that I think is very true and meaningful. A lot of times we believe that the big players like climate change and acidification have already taken over, and do not place much importance on what can be done on the local scale. If we take a look, there is a big difference between ecosystems where human activity is taking place and areas that are more “pristine,” even though climate change is affecting both. I think this is beautiful, because there is an opportunity for the consciousness of the biggest player, which happens to be us, to effect a change.
Thanks for reading!