Location: British Virgin Islands – Great Thatch Island and Guana Island.
Berths: Minimum four (ideally six).
Duration/timing: Minimum two weeks, ideally four weeks. Flexible timing but best not in UK academic term time.
Necessary equipment: Small RIB for access to dive sites. Four (ideally six) sets of scuba equipment.
Like many small island nations, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) need healthy coral reefs for their protection and economic stability. In late 2017, Hurricanes Irma (largest in ten years) and Maria caused considerable terrestrial and marine damage. Hurricanes and other impacts – overfishing, climate change, and land-based development – over the past 50 years have compromised coral reef recovery. We are in the unique position of having ecological data (fish abundance, diversity, biomass and coral recruitment) from before these hurricanes. However, to understand the recovery of coral post-disturbance, it is crucial that baselines are collected now.
A minimum of four berths are required with access to a RIB and scuba equipment. Should six berths be available, at least one student from the University of Essex will join the expedition and receive training in expedition logistics, organisation, and management, as well as having access to video data for their own research project.
The impact of recent hurricanes on BVI coral and fish communities will be investigated and a baseline for future studies laid in order to accurately monitor future structural recovery. The team will also collect coral specimens to establish sources of coral reef regeneration and monitor any shifts in fish abundance, diversity, biomass and feeding patterns post-hurricane. Techniques used will include video and visual belt transects of fringing reef sea-bed communities, stereo-video transects and 3D habitat models. Genetic samples will be also taken to see which species are returning to impacted areas.
Dr Taylor is an international expert in coral reef ecology, deep-sea population genomics, global ocean biodiversity, and conservation. She was recently the Principal Scientific Officer on a six-week NERC-funded sea-going expedition on the RRS James Cook. She has also participated in a superyacht-based science expedition to the British Indian Ocean Territories and understands the collaborative approach required to work on such vessels.
“The devastation caused by two recent back-to-back hurricanes impacting the BVI represents a unique opportunity to ‘experimentally’ test early stage recovery on coral reefs by looking at the number and variety of juvenile corals. We shall be using technologically advanced stereo- and 3D-video imagery to take baseline surveys of the reefs. By matching this with traditional visual survey techniques we hope to extend and improve the 25-year dataset of monitoring available for this area – something very rarely achieved.”