Friday, May 9, 2008

"Damn it Jim, I am a Doctor, not a SCUBA Diver"

Unlike Bones, who used to say silly things like this on the original Star Trek series way back in the dark ages, we on the BREAM team ARE SCUBA Divers (and some are doctors too) - AND we get to hang out with surgeons too (well, ok - surgeon fish). Like medical doctors we are also worried about diseases, temperatures and whether our patients are pale or icky-looking.

This BREAM scientist is counting fishes and recording her results on the yellow clip board.

The ecological health of a coral reef depends upon the condition of all the corals, fish, algae, sea urchins, gorgonians, sponges and other critters that live on it. When a reef is healthy the amount of algae is low, corals are abundant, and there are numerous predatory fish, as well as fish that eat algae (plants) and fish that eat water-borne plankton.

A healthy reef off South Shore.

When we survey a reef, we take measurements just like a doctor does. We count and measure the size of corals, sponges, sea urchins and fishes to see if they are growing big and strong. We check each coral for diseases which can harm the coral, and look to see if each coral head looks pale due to overheating or overexposure to the sun.

A sick coral with "yellow-band" disease along its right side.

By mapping these factors across large areas from year to year we are able to provide an "annual check-up" on the ecological health of our coral reefs - which then guides the management and research activities of government agencies and local scientists.

Lots of fish, corals and gorgonians make for a healthy reef!