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Jul 04, 2008

Snorkeling, Sunburning and Sustainability in Utila

Utila_reef

Coral reefs.  They might not look like much from above water, but underneath, they're something. 

I went snorkeling here for about an hour.  The coral and the fish were fascinating, as was the experience of swimming past the edge where I couldn't see anything but water and some refracted light.  It was dreamy.  And eventually sunburny (my first peeling burn since ~1980).

Below, a Stoplight Parrot Fish photographed by Adam Laverty, pulled from his gallery at AboutUtila.com.

Fishstoplightparrot01

I saw several of these fish (~12-16" long?) in various places around the island.  But in other places, I saw almost nothing.

Utila's reefs have taken big hits in recent years, from Hurricane Mitch (1998) and from people.  Here's part of a coral group post by Steve Box, director of the Utila Center for Marine Ecology:

Utila was hit hard in 1998 by a bleaching event and hurricane Mitch. This
combination was likely responsible for a large amount of dead shallower
corals <10m dominated by Montastraea annularis (mainly on the south side of
the island). Since Ma is struggling to recruit across the Caribbean the
ability for this to recover seems limited. As the cover of this major reef
builder declines the space is increasingly being taken up by algae, likely
hindering coral recovery further. In Utila this is augmented by the
decreasing population of herbivorous grazers through by catch and removal of
top predators, grouper etc.

Utila is a classic example of the necessity for ecological balance on reef
systems and the limited capacity of reefs to recover from major disturbances
if their fish populations (and other key species) are removed.

On the north side of the island and on the outer banks and deeper reefs,
coral cover is far healthier but their resilience is also likely to be
severely degraded, they just haven’t been as impacted by external influences
yet.

On the UCME website, Box says that he hopes that the reefs will still be around when his daughter is old enough to dive.

11:58 PM in Traveling | Permalink

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