by Hillary Lohmann, Friends of the East End Marine Park.
Part 1 in an East End Marine Park Series
July 17-23 is Coral Reef Awareness Week! St Croix is blessed to have one of the best-developed reefs in the Caribbean, much of which is protected within the East End Marine Park (Island Map).
Coral reefs are home to at least 25% of the world’s marine species of fish, invertebrates, and plants. They are cooperatively assembled by photosynthesizing plankton, called zooxanthellae, and tiny coral polyps, that colonize within, and build upon, the calcium carbonate infrastructure that is a reef. Like flowering plants, the zooxanthellae provide the colors that attract divers, snorkelers, and fish alike.
But our corals are silently struggling to bloom. Warming sea surface temperatures make it harder for the corals to photosynthesize in their reef dwellings. These stressful conditions cause many zooxanthellae to abandon the coral, taking their colors with them and leaving the white calcium carbonate structures behind. This results in a bleached coral, which will wind up a dead coral if the zooxanthellae don’t quickly return to photosynthesize again.
Just like the zooxanthellae, coral reef scientists and managers are stressed these days. A record-breaking El Nino will bring warm water to the Caribbean this summer, and a great deal of bleaching is likely. Here’s what you can do to help sooth stressed out reefs:
- Keep the corals clean.
- Prevent litter, chemicals, and sediments from draining into the sea.
- Report bleaching that you see.
- Visit The Nature Conservancy’s ReefConnect.org.
East End Marine Park