Greeting from Abaco Bahamas. I am here for a few days to help one of my grad students, Andrea Anton, who is working on lionfish which are EVERYWHERE here as they are across the Bahamas. The densities, only a few years after arriving, are truly remarkable.
But the real purpose of this post is to show some pictures of the amazing site we worked at today. It was a remote, shallow reef and easily had more fish and sharks than nearly anywhere else I have ever been. As soon as we entered the water a large school of tarpon come in to check us out. Within minutes we were being circled by four 5 ft black tip sharks. There were very large jack, barracuda, massive snapper, and incredible numbers of a variety of grouper everywhere. And ocean triggerfish seemed especially abundant. There were also plenty of Diadema and a fair number of parrotfish, surgeon fish and blue tangs, so there was little macroalgae. Many extremely large gastropods and more cyphoma that I have ever seen.
Unfortunately the coral cover was very low. In the shallows, probably < 1%, but this is a very exposed site. In deeper water, it was roughly 5-8%. But there were a lot of A. palmata colonies near the shore. And despite the low coral cover, this was without doubt a thriving and productive ecosystem. I heard an NGO head recently declare that once coral cover goes below 10%, the reef is functionally extinct and lost. I couldn’t disagree more.
The funny thing about this reef was that it isn’t in an MPA or in any way managed. No NGOs are protecting it. No scientists are studying it. And the lack of coral clearly hasn’t caused the fish community to collapse. Likewise, the presence of the fish and top predators didn’t maintain “reef resilience”, i.e., the corals still died when they bleached in 98. Funny how the real world mucks up all those cozy ideas academics dream up.