Central Caribbean Marine Institute researchers in Little Cayman are exploring the role parrotfish and other reef vegetarians play in coral reef health. It’s part of a three-year Darwin-funded study.
Thee year-one findings of the study are to be revealed at an event Thursday (19 April) at the National Gallery.
“You want the conditions that promote healthy corals, and low seaweed cover is part of that. That’s why we are looking into the herbivores,” said CCMI Research Scientist Dr. Claire Dell.
Dr. Dell told Cayman 27 there’s much to learn from reef vegetarians like the popular parrotfish.
“The role that the herbivorous fish on the reefs play is critical to keep the hard corals healthy,” said Dr. Dell. “The project is to look into which are the most important herbivorous fish here on the reef.”
Schools of blue tang can be frequently seen cruising Cayman’s reefs in search of a feast. Dr. Dell said the collective appetite of these fish and other grazers helps keep algae in check, and gives coral a chance to thrive.
“Various species of seaweed have been shown to have a hugely detrimental impact to the corals. They reduce their growth, increase the prevalence of disease, reduce their reproductive output, and can kill corals as well,” said Dr. Dell.
Another herbivorous species Dr. Dell said is emerging as a key player in controlling algae on coral reefs is the Bermuda chub. It’s another fish commonly found in Cayman’s waters.
“Identifying these important herbivores and then trying to find out more about them, especially if we don’t know their numbers, how far they move, what the population structure is. You need that sort of information to be able to take care of the population,” Dr. Dell said of where her scientific mind is likely to go next in the reef vegetarian study.
She said the year-one findings are an ideal jumping off point as her research moves into its next phase.
“That is what we will be looking at in the future, and yeah, there’s a number of questions that have been quite interesting that arisen as we have learned,” said Dr. Dell.
Dr. Dell’s Reef Vegetarians presentation is part of CCMI’s zero impact initiative, marking 2018 as International Year of the Reef.
The event takes place Thursday 19 April at the National Gallery, and it’s free to the public.