Centre for Marine Sciences | The University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica

Current Research

The Centre for Marine Sciences conducts and facilitates research in the marine environment of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, exploring the presence and status of coastal and marine species and resources while providing sound environmental advice to Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations. In an attempt to get islandwide coverage of marine and coastal issues, the Centre conducts research at new locations but also continues monitoring at known sites using a balance of pure and applied research.

On Jamaican reefs, many once abundant coral species have been replaced by algae. Mortality of Acropora species of corals was particularly important in shaping this transition. Less coral is available to provide the appropriate habitat for reef fishes or source material to maintain sandy beaches. Natural recovery through sexual reproduction is unlikely Experimental transplants are developing suitable methodology for restoring A. cervicornis populations in Jamaica. Continued inattention to the problem of degraded reefs will negatively impact our tourism industry, limit subsistence options for low income locals and increase the effects of coastal erosion. This study seeks to assess a new method of improving reef complexity, diversity and coral biomass to increase the abundance of fish populations for subsistence fishers, local or visiting divers and snorkelers.

The Coral Reef Recovery Project (CoRRP) seeks to facilitate reef recovery by deploying a new design of artificial reef module as the first component of a two-part strategy. The creation of suitable coral and fish settlement habitat combines with a second element - transplanting coral onto this artificial reef structure.

This project will be expanded to carry out the first two elements in the context of a no-fishing marine sanctuary within which the new artificial reef habitat can flourish due to increased herbivory levels from increased levels of fish protection. Monitoring will determine if supplying a low voltage electric current to these reefs and the culture and subsequent release into the sanctuary of target species of fishes and urchins can accelerate the process of coral growth, viable reef formation and increased fish biomass.

Ecopath/Ecospace modelling software will be used to determine the optimal parameters of sanctuary space, artificial reef area, numbers of fishes and urchins added that can be manipulated with a view to speeding the recovery of future coastal areas.

The project’s ultimate aim will be to accelerate the recovery of Jamaican coral reefs and involve the local community in the process.

Jamaica’s reefs are some of the most heavily exploited fishing areas in the entire Caribbean. Catch composition has shifted from larger, valuable species towards smaller, less valuable "trash" species. Since the 1980’s, south coast diving fishers have suffered increasingly from the symptoms (extreme pain, paralysis, death) of Decompression Illness (the Bends) and Burst Lung. These injuries result from increased fishing effort (more dives and longer times spent at greater depths) to compensate for the shortage of shallow water fish, lobster and conch.

What remains unknown is
  • the actual dive profiles causing these injuries
  • the actual numbers of fishers affected i.e the households which have lost their primary wage earners while being faced with increased medical expenses
  • the status of the present fish stock exploited by these fishers

This project seeks to develop Best Practice Strategies for the safe and sustainable exploitation of fishery resources by diving fishermen via

  • a limited assessment of  fish stocks at south coast fishing centres
  • determining the fishing effort exerted by diving fishers in these areas
  • determining the conditions (number of excursions, depth & time) of the dives that cause Decompression Illness in the population of diving fishers
  •  a decompression illness risk assessment (by percent) of the dive profile data from the dives being carried out to harvest these resources
  • surveying the families of diving fishers regarding the effect of loss of income and additional health care costs on the wider community
  • public Education workshops to communicate these results of above investigations to local fishers

Coastal ecosystems have been degraded by increasing anthropogenic stresses super-imposed on natural local, regional and global trends. Primary productivity and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems are important indicators of present and future yields of inshore marine resources. Little is known about the baseline status of Jamaica’s major coastal ecosystems in their specific locations. The lack of adequate baseline data or capacity to synthesize and interpolate existing data sets thereby enhancing local capacity to detect and predict threshold ecosystem changes will continue to impact our ability to implement timely and effective response management measures to environmental threats. The formulation of local and regional environmental management strategies to rehabilitate critically degraded areas cannot be achieved without access to comprehensive, time series, site specific data sets.

The original CARICOMP Project was a regional monitoring program for the long term assessment of trends in key variables in the major Caribbean coastal ecosystems. It depended on the utilisation of specifically designed research protocols including observations on significant transient phenomena e.g. changes in sea urchin population numbers or the increased incidence of mortality from coral diseases or bleaching events. It suffered from a lack of funding and human resources. Insufficient use has also been made of the long-term data sets generated by this and associated research projects such as AGRRA, CPACC & REEFCHECK. These data are intended to serve as the basis for identifying local problems and establishing meaningful criteria and guidelines for appropriate decisions regarding ecosystem management, conservation and habitat restoration.

In addition to the original CARICOMP site, this project also monitors a relatively pristine coral reef area; a nearby hotel development site and a cruise ship port construction site that involves coral relocation as mitigation for the dredging needed to develop the port area. This information will assist in the development of appropriate management and rehabilitative decisions for the islands coastal ecosystems as required by future development projects.

This project was written subsequent to the work done on the invasive green mussel Perna viridis as a response to the threat of marine invasive alien species (MIAS). It has been acknowledged that Prevention of invasions is the best option for management of MIAS. Jamaica has recently become one of the Lead Partner Countries for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) GloBallast Programme in the region. This UWI Ballast Water Project has been recognized as one of the reasons for Jamaica’s current recognition by the IMO GloBallast Programme.

The main components of the project are:

  • Sampling and Analyses of Ballast Water from ships entering Discovery Bay as well as other harbours around Jamaica
  • Identification of species in the ballast water, noting marine invasive species
  • Public Education Programme
  • Increase the level of capacity for ballast water sampling and analyses in Jamaica
  • Provide technical guidance for BW legislation by the Maritime Authority of Jamaica

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has requested that all vessels undergo ballast water exchange (BWE) on open sea which would reduce the risk of invasion.  However, vessels may use discretion in performing this activity if the safety of the vessel (being unstable) is an apparent danger due to rough seas and other factors. In these and other instances, vessels would then release ballast water within or close to the bay of the destination port.

This project aims to identify and map zones within and around Kingston Harbour and Montego Bay for the release of ballast water taken up from international ports. These zones would be based on spatial relation to ecologically sensitive areas and human recreational areas, bathymetry and water currents. Additionally, it will also aim to identify areas in the bays where ballast water can be taken up with minimal risk of transporting a known marine invasive species present in the bays to a new area.

This project is important to provide relevant information to the Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ) and the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) to guide the release and uptake of ballast water by ships in Jamaica’s coastal waters in the event that BWE was not possible reducing or eliminating the risks of biological invasions.

A combination of oceanographic modelling, biological and ecological assessments, and geographic information systems will be used during this project to define the final products. Zoning of these major bays has never been done in Jamaica before for release of ballast water. The potential impacts of this project are proper management of ballast water release into coastal waters if BWE was not done. In addition, the identification of “no-release” or “no-take” areas would be done.  This work would allow the Port Authority of Jamaica and the Maritime Authority of Jamaica the opportunity to use strong science to guide the management of ballast water and shipping in Jamaica.

Once demonstrated, the model would be applicable to other ports in Jamaica, as well as other ports throughout the Caribbean who have never taken this approach.

Since 2006, the lionfish has spread across Jamaica, threatening reef, seagrass and mangrove fish communities. This species has received significant attention throughout the Caribbean region due to its demonstrated and potential impacts on ecology, fisheries, tourism and public health.

The Global Environment Facility has funded a 4-year Regional Project on Invasive Species (spanning 5 countries). Jamaica currently has 3 projects under this large regional project of which this project is included. The Discovery Bay Marine Lab has been entrusted with the responsibility to lead the Lionfish Project for Jamaica.

The main components of the project are:

  • Islandwide Distribution
  • Prey Preferences
  • Development of a Passive Capture Mechanism
  • Development of a Lionfish Management Plan

Other aspects that will investigated by DBML outside of the scope of this project are:

  • Population Genetics
  • Local Larval Distribution and Ecology

JCRMN's objectives are to stimulate interest in the monitoring of the Jamaican coral reef, train persons in coral reef monitoring methodologies and to develop a sustainable coral reef monitoring program for the island.

Monitoring is done using the Reef Check method (which is the largest volunteer coral reef monitoring program in the world), and Jamaican volunteers are trained in this method. Reef Check focuses on the abundance of particular coral reef organisms that best reflect the condition of the ecosystem. It provides a rapid assessment of selected fish and invertebrate species present as well as reef substrate composition.

Data processing and the production of reports are conducted by the Caribbean Coastal Data Centre (CCDC).

During the early 1990's reef surveys were carried out at Lime Cay (Judith Mendes 1992) and East Middle Ground Shoal, Maiden Cay, Drunkenman's Cay and Gun Cay (Malden Miller 1994). These survey included data on the number or presence of different Caribbean species of sea urchins at these various sites. The aim of this project is to resurvey these sites and to obtain more detailed information as to:

  • the different species of urchins present
  • the numbers in which they are found
  • the spatial distribution with respect to depth and
  • the test sizes of Diadema antillarum which may be compared to data collected by Mendes in 1989.

This data will go towards doing a comparison of the urchin population from the late 80's to present, where possible. In other cases it will provide baseline information as to the urchin population at the mentioned Cays. Anther aspect which will be covered by this project is a genetic relatedness comparison of Diadema antillarum from the different Cays as well as other sources around the island of Jamaica.

The St Thomas coastal habitat project represents an ecological assessment of the Morant Wetland area. The project is funded by a grant from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (E.F.J). The project is carried out by GRADUATE STUDENTs under the supervision of various lecturers. The project is comprised of all academic student levels: undergraduate, MSc, MPhil and PhD.

The project officially started in March 2006 with field work beginning in 2007. Coral Reefs are being assessed off the Morant Point lighthouse area within Foule and Folly Bay using various methods such as AGGRA, Reef Check and traditional reef survey methods. Also water quality studies are being attempted to determine biological, physical and chemical parameters of the waters within the area. Further benthic assessments are being done on the seagrass environment and oceanographic and fish assessment studies are being attempted.

In the tropical marine environment, corals constitute obvious key species in the important coral reef habitat and are symbolic of natural, clean waters. It is therefore the case that when economically important development projects threaten coral reefs, relocation should be considered as a potential means of mitigating or avoiding excessive damage.

The present investigation followed a large-scale attempt to rescue corals from total destruction by a major dredging operation. The underlying reef on which the live corals were growing was dredged away to widen a narrow shipping lane. Thus the emphasis was on preserving life and as such 60,000 "pieces" of coral reef biota (including corals, gorgonians and sea urchins) were moved and relocated some 200m away, safe from the dredge.

This project looks at the re-colonisation of the cut face for biological recovery.

This project focuses on long term assessment of coral reef ecosystems of the Port Royal Cays area and also examinations of the effects on reefs by storms.