Cayman’s reefs will be the basis for 2 PhD’s that will work to better understand how coral reefs function.
The Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) has granted Marilyn Brandt, a University of Miami Ph.D. student the CCMI Coral Reef Fellowship. Little Cayman is now the stage for an investigation into what is influencing the spread and distribution of coral disease and what long-term impacts to the reef could be.
With its low population and small size, Little Cayman provides the unique opportunity to document coral disease on a detailed level. The information provided by this study will be critical to both scientists and managers for understanding and possibly controlling the spread of disease in corals, the foundation of coral reef environments.
CCMI is also assisting research by Aletta T. Yniguez, native of the Philippines, and Fulbright Scholar at the University of Miami. Using her work on Little Cayman, she plans to develop a computer model that shows 3D macroalgae growing as they respond to their environment of light, nutrients and the space around them. Macroalgae play an important role in coral reefs by giving food and shelter to the animals around them and they co-exist with the corals and many other creatures in the reefs.
However, they can also be problematic if they grow too fast or out compete corals. Using computer models, Aletta can alter different variables in a computer and see how the macroalgae will react. For example, what if there were higher levels of nutrients, would the macroalgae suddenly grow over everything even if the corals were not dying?
Models are a good way to test many different hypothetical scenarios that you can’t easily create in the field. To create this model, Aletta will be conducting diving surveys to measure different traits of the macroalgae. One of these traits is how fast different species of macroalgae grow as well as what shape and form they develop. She will also measure the levels of light and nutrients in the water. Another trait she will be investigating is where they like to grow – do they prefer to live on corals or on sand or on rock? All of these will be combined into the simulation model from which she hopes to learn what factors are important for macroalgae to live and spread in coral reefs.
These research projects represent the first two PH.D. studies on the reefs of Little Cayman. The work is supported by Central Caribbean Marine Institute, Southern Cross Club, Head O’Bay, US Environmental Protection Agency, and National Center for Caribbean Coral Reef Research (NCORE). These projects provide a new profile for the Cayman Islands as a premiere coral reef research destination for global scientists and research on the pressing issues facing coral reefs. For Cayman, this also means the youth participating in the CCMI summer programs have an opportunity to interface with some of the greatest marine scientists today.
For more details, visit the CCMI website at www.reefresearch.org