Tropical Marine Ecosystems

Posted: August 7, 2015

The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) advertises itself to tourists as “Beautiful by Nature.” Indeed, the tourism that the country’s economy is heavily dependent on is driven by its extensive coral reefs and near pristine white sand beaches. The health of these ecosystems is in turn supported by the ecosystem goods and services provided by the widespread seagrass beds and mangrove forests. However, the “Beautiful by Nature” status, and therefore the whole economy of the TCI is under threat because of a multitude of attacks on these crucial marine ecosystems. Local threats of unsustainable fishing and coastal development are stretching marine ecosystems to their breaking point, and global impacts from climate change may very well push them over the edge to a state from which they can never recover. This situation clearly needs to be avoided. To ensure this, better environmental monitoring is needed and a more developed management plans for fisheries and coastal development.

This summer the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) offered two new sequential monthlong courses. Tropical Marine Ecosystem: Monitoring and Management (Summer I) was an interdisciplinary course which highlighted key aspects of environmental assessment and management of tropical marine ecosystems. In addition, students explored sustainable development strategies for the TCI at both local and global scales. Students gained knowledge of sub-tropical marine ecosystem function and an understanding of challenges at the intersection of marine conservation and economic development. We were fortunate to be joined by SFS Panama Center Director Cinda Scott and Stony Brook University M.S. candidate and SFS alumna Katie Flowers.


Laura Daigle surveys coral for bleaching using the Coral Watch program protocols.


Horse-eye Jack (Caranx latus) swim through the transect and are counted by students survey the reefs.

The aim of the Applied Marine Research Techniques (Summer II) course is to provide students with the opportunity to apply the scientific process in a field research project that addresses a local issue related to the management of tropical marine environments in the TCI, and specifically on the island of South Caicos. This course prepares students to develop scientific approaches to identify key problems — such as overfishing and increased coastal development — affecting the health of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests that surround the island. Through this course, students have been progressively learning to implement the scientific research process while contributing to a growing body of research that informs local marine conservation and resource management decisions. CMRS was joined by SFS Panama’s Coastal Ecology Lecturer Aileen Maldonado who joined students in the field and worked with TCI faculty and staff.

The introduction of these two new courses has been both exciting and enjoyable. Everyone is looking forward to community presentations Saturday!


Students Laura Daigle and Alex Goranov survey the reef using SCUBA. Student conduct belt transect surveys of the fish population and use point surveys to determine benthic composition.