Reef Specialists look for clues into coral survival

[Linked Image] Not only does it provide a barrier from the sea, it also provides a healthy environment for many species to live. But all over the world global warming has been blamed for the slow death of many reef systems. Two reef specialists, Lisa Carne and Doctor Austin Bowden-Kerby, are in Belize working on a project that they hope will provide the key to saving this precious ecosystem. News Five’s Jose Sanchez spoke to Bowden-Kerby, who says that he has been working with the Climate Change Center in Belmopan to look at the problems of climate change and the bleaching of coral reefs.

Austin Bowden-Kerby, Marine Biologist

“Coral reefs are dying all over the Caribbean and all over the world because of climate change, because of global warming. Because of the bleaching, the corals turn white, they get sick and they die. So we’ve got a new project, funded by the World Bank that we will be doing in Placencia and we’ll be doing a little bit here at Turneffe and we are looking for corals that have survived bleaching and that are thriving in spite of global warming. And we’re looking at these as genetic treasures and we’re taking little bits of them and we’re creating nurseries; little gene banks of coral so to speak and we’re growing them in nurseries and they grow quite fast under the species and we’ll be trimming them and we’re doing research on what makes them able to survive in these hotter waters.”

Jose Sanchez
“You've identified corals that do survive the acidic and hotter waters?”

Austin Bowden-Kerby
“There are corals that do survive and they do thrive but it’s one out of a hundred or something like that. So the coral reefs have declined and two species that use to be very common and not quite rare and that’s Staghorn coral and the Elkhorn coral. They are actually threatened with extinction. Belize has some of the best populations from any in the Caribbean but other countries they are totally extinct. Belize is a sign of hope for the future that the types that are dying out here will continue to die out in other places. The lobsters live there, the fish sleep there at night. So they’re called the pipe shank coral and that was the most important habitat for fish. When the pipe shank coral is gone where are those fish gonna live and that’s gonna happen. But it’s actually less than ten percent of what it was only twenty years ago. So were particularly looking at staghorn and elkhorn corals and some of the big large corals that are hundreds of years old and have been through an awful lot in terms of hurricanes and then now climate change. They’re basically trying to gather that bits of hope, put them together in nurseries and then go from there to create little pockets of health on the reef.”

Bowden-Kerby, who leaves the country on Wednesday, says the project is sponsored by the World Bank. He hopes that his group can collaborate with the Fisheries Department to train and certify reef guides to care for damaged corals.

Live and let live