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Ongoing Research at Glover's Reef

Glovers Reef's complex and diverse coral reef system continues to be an important site for cutting edge scientific research focused on addressing critical coral reef conservation issues, the efficacy of marine reserves at preserving biodiversity, and the use of coral reef atolls by other important marine species.  The following list contains current (2011-2012) research projects conducted at WCS' research station located on Middle Caye, and the principle investigators heading each project:

Project Title:    Belize Shark Conservation Research
Principal Investigators: Demian D. Chapman (Ph.D.) and Ellen K. Pikitch (Ph.D.) (Institute for Ocean Conservation Science & School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Stony Brook University, Stony Brook NY.)
Elizabeth Babcock (Ph.D.). (Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, FL.)

Summary:  The Glover’s Reef atoll shark survey has been conducted for thirteen consecutive years using longline fishing and for four continuous years using unobtrusive baited remote underwater video (BRUV) techniques, providing the longest continuous time series of shark abundance anywhere in the Caribbean.  The purpose of the project is to obtain scientific information to improve shark conservation on the Belize Barrier Reef and associated regions.  Progress is being made towards this goal by assessing regional elasmobranch biodiversity, locating critical habitats (e.g. breeding grounds) and monitoring population trends.  Modern electronic tracking and genetic techniques are also being used to determine how best to design Marine Protected Area’s (MPA’s) to better protect reef shark assemblages in Belize and the broader Caribbean region.

Project Title:  Dispersal of Panulirus argus (spiny lobster) larvae and how it affects disease transmission 
Principal Investigator: Mark Butler PhD (Old Dominion University)

Summary:  The study aims to explore the dynamics and mechanisms of disease in spiny lobster larvae, understand the effect of infection on larval behavior and mortality, and how this may affect disease transmission and population connectivity in the Caribbean.

Project Title: Applying patterns of natural coral recovery to guide Caribbean coral reef restoration efforts.
Principal Investigator: Brittany Huntington PhD (NRC Post Doc Fellow NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center)

Summary:  To improve restoration site selection by indentifying favorable seascape and reef habitat attributes for Acropora cerviconis (stag horn coral) proliferation, and by determining optimal colony density, size, and configuration for out-planting colonies.

Project Title: A Hands-on Approach to Marine Science Education: Surveying and comparing the marine habitats of Glover’s Reef 
Principal Investigators: Carlie Williams, Josh Kilborn, Natasha Mendez, Ben Hayes and Jim Alaniz (SCUBAnauts International, Inc., U.S.A.)

Summary:  The SCUBAnauts International (SNI) is a charitably-supported Youth Marine Science Education organization and an organizational member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS). SNI is designed to teach teenagers about marine science using scientific diving data collection techniques and protocols. The underwater surveys include benthic surveys to monitor coral and benthic cover; fish surveys to develop ecological models of carnivorous and herbivorous types of fish; identification of invertebrates; sediment composition analyses; and environmental data collection.   Students will increase their understanding of marine biodiversity, ecological differences between reef zones and local marine habitats and differences in reef community interactions during day vs. night.

Project Title:  The effect of coral reef degradation on the recruitment of reef fish larvae at Glover’s Reef Atoll, Belize.
Principal Investigator:  Niloufar Bayani (Master’s Thesis) Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology (Columbia University)

Summary:  The study aims to examine the effect of climate-related coral reef degradation on the recruitment pattern of fish larvae at Glover’s Reef Atoll in Belize. The main objectives are to: 1) determine patterns of fish larval settlement among early and late stages of coral degradation; 2) determine patterns of fish larval settlement among management zones; and 3) determine the effect of predation immediately after settlement of fish larvae and the correlation between predation and human disturbance. If there is a significant difference in frequency of newly settled larvae between predator exclusion sites and those where predators are not excluded, this difference will be used as a proxy for predation rate on newly settled larvae.

Project Title:   Sampling Corals along Belize Coast 
Principal Investigators: Maoz Fine (PhD)  and Ofer ben-Tzvi (PhD) (The Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel & Bar-Ilan University. Israel)   

Summary:  The Future of Reefs in a Changing Environment (FORCE) project is an integrated research project which takes an ecosystem approach, linking social and cological aspects towards managing Caribbean coral reefs in the face of climate change. The investigators are a part of a team consisting of scientists from 20 institutions worldwide (mainly Europe and the Caribbean), is studying the effects of ocean acidification (OA) on coral reefs. Specifically, the investigators are trying to determinate what are the effects of changes in aragonite saturation on coral growth rates in the Caribbean.  

Project Title:   Spawning Aggregation Acoustics Research 
Principal Investigators:  Michelle Schärer, Caribbean Coral Reef Institute (CCRI), University of Puerto Rico 

Summary:  The purpose of the study is to determine if the Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus, produce sounds associated with spawning aggregations. Recognition of a species-specific sound may help increase our understanding of Nassau grouper reproductive behaviors and detect spawning aggregations acoustically.