Image: Coastal Zone Managment Unit??
A local marine biologist has sent out an SOS for the island’s coral reefs, warning that failure to preserve them could result in the loss of vital tourism revenue.
Angelique Brathwaite of the Coastal Zone Management Unit’s (CZMU) Marine Research section has identified land-based sources of marine pollution as the main culprits, which are destroying the island’s reefs.
Speaking in an extensive interview with the Barbados Government Information Service, Ms. Brathwaite cited sewage, nutrients from fertilisers, toxins from dry cleaning agencies and of course littering, as among the major bug bearers.
"Corals live in nutrient-poor waters like deserts and that’s how they survive best. When we pump the water full of nutrients – nitrates and phosphates, especially – it
causes algae to proliferate. Now there is nothing wrong with algae normally, but it is too much of a good thing. When you fertilise your water with nutrients the algae will proliferate and will cover everything. It will kill the corals and it will stop recruits from settling, so we are trying to minimise the amount of nutrients seeping into the ocean," she explained.
In terms of physical damage to reefs, the Marine Biologist?? noted that when dive boats chose to drop anchor on top [of] reefs, or when divers or snorkelers, unintentionally caused breakages, or persons deliberately broke off corals as souvenirs, they were causing major problems. She also cited climate change as a phenomenon, which has had a "huge impact on our corals."
"We call them canaries, in a gold mine they exist within such narrow environmental parameters that when anything goes out of whack – corals are some of the first organisms that will detect it and show it to you. So when it gets hot – corals get stressed…and if that stress remains they will starve to death-they won’t be able to build a skeleton and they will die," the official said.
In giving some insight into the importance of corals to the island, Ms. Brathwaite reminded persons that the island was virtually a coral reef.
"Most of the beach sand we have here is either ground- up corals or Halimeda, which is a coral reef algae. And, of course all the shells are also ground up and they make up sand.
"Even with all this erosion that you might have noticed around the island – … in areas where there are nice healthy coral reefs, the erosion is not as great," she maintained, noting that the CZMU had done extensive work in erecting break water, which served?? to replace natural coral reefs which had?? been destroyed.
In terms of the fishing industry, Ms. Brathwaite stressed that the island’s reef fisheries were "completely dependent" on healthy coral reefs. She cited jacks, some snappers, and pot fish especially, parrot fish, as the major beneficiaries.
"The coral reefs act as an oasis in the desert – so it is a very productive area. It generates food – and the actual structure of the reef provides a home for the fish. Of course, the smaller fish serve to attract the larger predators, like the barracudas and the sharks and the big jacks and so on. So, the only reason we have those reef fish is because we have coral reefs," the Marine Biologist emphasised.
Ms. Braithwaite further indicated that many medicines were found on coral reef eco-systems, along with some chemicals which exhibited a reaction against leukemia.
In terms of littering, the CZMU official reminded Barbadians that something as simple as throwing garbage out of a mini-van onto the street could be disastrous.
"If you throw your garbage away in St. Thomas, it will end up in the sea – and it will have an impact on the marine environment. It can choke corals; turtles [and] fish.
"…It if we lost our coral reefs – and we are well on the way to doing that we would have no beaches. Can you imagine Barbados without?? beaches? And that spirals off into other things – loss of tourism revenue and so on," she warned.