between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica sits at the
edge of the Caribbean, just shy of the Atlantic. The small tropical
island, 754 square miles in area, is young by geological standards
-- 26 million years old. This means its coral reefs are less developed
than in other parts of the Caribbean and need extra protection.
are two main types of reef," explained Professor Sascha Steiner,
president of the Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology. "One
is the traditional coral reef, corals that secrete skeletons that
build on top of each other so after hundreds of thousands of years
these structures build upwards. We don't have so much of that
in Dominica because the island is so young. If you were to drill
a hole in a lot of our reefs, you would find only a thin layer
of corals and then volcanic rock. There has not [been] enough
time to build up the framework."
not having a lot of time to develop, the reefs of Dominica have
to also survive a battering from natural elements like waves and
violent weather that can pose a threat to the fragile coral assemblages.
destruction is massive," Steiner said. "The island is
so young that hurricanes and terrestrial runoff have limited the
to natural threats to the coral reef, man also poses a significant
risk. Dominica is one of the few Caribbean islands where descendants
of the original inhabitants are still alive, and native fishing
in shallow water can damage the coral.
main fishing techniques use nets, dropping them off boats and
drawing a circle towards shore, dragging it along," Steiner
along the bottom of the sea can catch on coral, anchors can crush
assemblages, and boats can bump into larger pieces. And aside
from directly damaging the coral, fishing has side effects that
lead to a weaker reef.
some reason carnivorous fish taste better, and so they are fished
and fished until they've been wiped out of an environment. Then
the fishermen move on to grazers, until they've been wiped out,"
Steiner said. "Without the grazers to keep it in check, the
algae will eventually out compete the coral. It grows over the
corals, takes away their light, the corals die, and the structures
fall apart. And you don't just lose the corals, you lose gazillions
of organisms. That's what comes of interrupting food chains."
so than fishing, changes in the community and economy of Dominica
has had a trickle-down effect on the surrounding reefs. Dominican
farmers, long the backbone of the economy, can no longer compete
with multinational corporations and so are folding up shop to
move to coastal towns for other opportunities. The result has
been a population explosion along the coast. Building the houses
and roads for the growing shore communities creates sediment runoff
that gets blown or pushed into the ocean and clouds the water,
obstructing coral access to life-giving light.
time you have rain or wind, that is so much sediment going out
into the reef," Steiner said. "The sediment literally
clogs the coral reef. There's only so much they can take. They're
starting to run out of energy. If they're using so much energy
sweeping up the sediment, then they don't have any left over to
authorities have taken some steps to protect the coral surrounding
the island. They have established two marine reserves that are
monitored by wardens and where fishing is prohibited. They also
designated offshore fishing zones for the local population to
both satisfy their fishing needs and preserve the reef structure.
government-sponsored fishing aggregation devices, moored undersea
structures that attract and house schools of fish, the islanders
are allowed greater fishing access while at the same time leaving
the coral reefs undisturbed.
can fish deeper water and get more fish, bigger fish," explained
Arun Madisetti, Marine Manager of the Dominican Marine Reserve
has also enlisted local divers into the cause, using them to survey
damage to the reefs and monitor fish populations and environmental
them in has been a big part of it," Madisetti said. "Local
divers often get bored and say 'oh I've dived there already,'
but when there have been changes and we need them to check it
out, it all works out."
So far, the
news has been good.
"Returning divers have been saying they see bigger and more
fish, which means it's working," Madisetti said.
believes the government needs to devote more time and energy to
stem the continual strain on the reefs.
not just sudden impact that's threatening reefs globally, it's
the chronic, constant pressure," Steiner said. "It's
like the HIV virus. When you have sediment and physical impact
constantly nagging the coral, it weakens the system."
there was a variety of reasons for saving the reefs, beyond preserving
the millions of diverse species that call the coral home.
discovering the reef can also be valuable for medicinal purposes.
The diving operators have to conserve the reefs so they can run
a business and make a living. And the reefs protect the shorelines
The reef is
also important to the native Dominicans.
part of the native culture," Steiner said. "It's tied
to local culture providing for food and meals. People eat fresh
fish four to five times a week here. It's vital to their diet.
We need to preserve the reef, conserve the resource so future
generations can get local fish rather than rely on frozen chicken
from Nebraska. Sooner or later that's going to be cheaper to eat.
It's about preserving that resource."
By Jessica Moore, Online NewsHour