Assessing the diversity and abundance of reef architects in north Eleuthera
This study was designed and implemented as a student led project during our summer 2018 marine science education programs for local young people, and provided meaningful and original data in ecosystems local to the schools and communities within which these students reside. Reef architects are comprised predominantly of sponges and corals and are essential components to the reef building process, creating habitat and refuge for a range of species critical to coral reef ecosystems and the fisheries supported by them. Here, we chose two sites in the Gregory Town vicinity of north Eleuthera, including Longbight Cove and Gaulding Cay.
Methods – designed by students – included visual transect surveys parallel to the shores of each site and the use of randomised quadrats to estimate percentage cover of benthic components, contributing to the overall community structure of the fringing reefs at each site. Results determined that soft sediment fringed reefs less than 20 m from shore were dominated by bivalves and algae; however, >30 m from shore, the structure of these reefs changed to one of sponge and coral dominance, completely replacing algae and bivalves as the major components.
Our students were able to determine that these data are important when considering coastal and nearshore ecosystems’ conservation requirements, and which particular sites should be considered priority areas for further management scrutiny. This project was then presented during a community outreach event and workshop hosted by the Centre for Ocean Research and Education with local Bahamians from Harbour Island and Gregory Town able to meet the students, learn about their saltwater country and ask questions related to the students’ findings.