The unexpected role of Urchins in saving the Caribbean Corals

About coral survival: In an exclusive film in association with DIVE magazine, go behind the scenes and see how a diving trip in the Caribbean on the search of an unlikely hero could hold the answer to the survival of coral and solution to a mystery that has puzzled biologists and scientists.

Sea Urchins have been in a mysterious decline in the region, leading to a horrible misalignment in a marine ecosystem. With no sea urchins, it left many coral reefs covered in algae, suffocating the life from corals and destroying the reef’s foundation, and a home for many species of marine life.

However, a reef on the coast of Honduras is showing an exception to this devastating trend and may provide the key to bringing these reefs back to life.

Sea Urchin survival seems to be the key

During the 1980s a disease wiped out most of the sea urchins in the Caribbean. In the years since the decline, they’ve failed to recover in any significant numbers. A breakthrough discovery in 2010 revealed a thriving system of sea urchins on the Banco Capiro reef system in Honduras.

With urchin numbers being x3 greater than any other part of the region and healthy coral cover at the site is also substantially higher making it possibly one of healthiest reefs on the Caribbean.

Max survey for coral survivalOperation Wallacea researchers surveying the reef

In the film for DIVE, journalist Katie Garrett followed researchers from Operation Wallacea, a conservation group from the UK who quickly led out an expedition to determine how these sea urchins managed to survive.

What they found was quite interesting. Comparing the conditions found on Banco Capiro with the nearby typical ‘degraded’ reef systems, the scientists hoped to uncover the matrix of conditions that allowed urchins and by effect, the wider coral ecosystem to thrive at the site.

Banco Capiro reef, Honduras

How to ensure the coral survival?

Using cutting-edge 3D imaging, they’ve pioneered ways to map the reef structure in minute detail. Using this technique means that biologists and scientists are able to literally (digitally) dive into the reef. Like this, they can take accurate measurements and conduct analysis without the demands of being underwater. Or even on location.

It’s technology used in innovative ways like the team have done with Operation Wallacea that will be a game changer for habitat analysis and to determine the reasons for surprising the recovery of particular species.

The team is hopeful that the discoveries will allow them to recreate optimal conditions. The conditions will be used in nearby reefs and similar reef systems from around the world.

We’ll certainly keep you updated as we hear more from the team that ensures the coral survival.


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