November 24, 2008

Ocean Star’s Students Survey the Reefs in Soufriere


By Sea|mester Chief Scientist Jessica Fry

Last month 14 students from Sea|mester programs and the Schooner Ocean Star proudly conducted three Reef Check surveys in Soufriere, St Lucia. This semester began in the British Virgin Islands on 20th September 2008, where most of the students took their first breaths underwater. After a month of Marine Biology and Oceanography classes, accompanied by many underwater adventures, they were all ready and excited to begin surveying.

On the 21st of October 2008, park rangers and staff from the Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA) briefed us on the successes of the Marine Park and their work. Over the next two days, we surveyed three sites: Rachette Point, Superman’s Flight (at the base of the Petit Piton) and Grande Caille, all in the Soufriere area. Peter Butcher and the park rangers were extremely helpful, laying out the transect tapes prior to our dives and facilitating the dives with the use of their boat.

The reefs are looking good; there was little sign of bleaching, especially compared to previous years, such as 2005. Unfortunately there was some coral damage due to the swells the previous week from Hurricane Omar, which passed 200 miles to the north. Many islands in the eastern Caribbean experienced 6-12ft swells during the hurricane. We noticed many gorgonian sea fans ripped from the substrate, particularly at the 5m survey site in Grande Caille. At the other sites there were signs of hard coral damage, again particularly at the 5m site.

Everyone enjoyed some great diving, of particular interest were a couple of sightings of the “peafish”–juvenile smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter)–and many spinyhead blennies (Acanthemblemaria spinosa).

For more photos, click here.