Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
SALT RIVER, Clarendon:PREPARATORY WORK has begun on a major multi-agency project to enhance the quality and quantity of reef habitats within the Three Bays Fish Sanctuary located within the Portland Bight Protected Area. A demonstration site to study the effectiveness of different types of electrified reefs will be funded by West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco) to the tune of J$9.5 million, for which the Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation is now meeting with fishers and other stakeholders to raise awareness about the need for long-term benefits.
Three Bays is one of three fish sanctuaries located in the Portland Bight Protected Area, which is located in southern Clarendon and southern St Catherine - from Hellshire in the east to just inside Milk River in the west, north up to Hayes in Clarendon and just a little below the highway and all the way out to the sea.
The project - for which Dr Thomas J. Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance is lead consultant - is timely, given that Jamaica has one of the most overfished waters in the Caribbean. Using the BioRock method developed by a team of scientists, including Goreau, the process uses a low-voltage electrical unit sent through a metal frame placed on the seabed. In addition to reversing the effects of rusting, the electricity causes electrolytic processes, which result in precipitation of a stony calcified layer on the metal frame, which provides an ideal substrate for the growth of corals.
At a recent Fishery Enhancement Project meeting at the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Goreau explained that BioRock is a steel framework tightly bound or welded together into a specific three-dimensional shape. The shape, mesh sizing, and overall dimension of each reef unit is very variable and a wide variety of designs have been used to great effect at various locations worldwide.
The BioRock process uses construction-grade steel bars to create the lattice framework, and each unit can be tailored to meet aesthetic needs, and novel and artistic structures have also been created. The design is usually determined by the purpose of the reef such as optimising the habitats available to many different species and sizes of fish by creating several different sizes of holes and hiding places.
Published reports indicate that corals growing on these electrified structures not only grow faster, but heal faster from damage and are more resistant to stress. Goreau explained that this is an advantage in Jamaican reefs where the combined stressors of overfishing, elevated water temperatures, disease, pollution, and siltation have decimated large portions of our reefs. While these stresses remain, it is difficult for reefs to recover after mass coral mortality. BioRock appears to offer a relatively cost-effective method to create refuges on a small scale where corals that are in danger of drestuction from local waters would find refuge on these structures.
Living corals are near the base of the tropic relationships in a coral reef ecosystem and are essential to creating and maintaining the structure necessary for healthy populations of reef-dependent fish species, which represent a major portion of the fish consumed in Jamaica. This project will support several activities, which will enhance the protection and productivity of the Three Bays Fish Sanctuary.
It is projected that over time, with the corals providing nurseries for a range of fish and other marine species, the diversity and abundance of reef fish in the area will be increased. Secondary goals include establishing a demonstration site to study the effectiveness of different types of electrified reefs for the establishment, growth, and resilience of corals on Jamaican reefs, and increasing public awareness and support for fisheries management in Portland Bight through participation by local stakeholders in the design, construction, and installation of the reef units and marker buoys.
Ingrid Parchment, executive director of C-CAM, stressed the importance of getting fishers, especially, to appreciate the long-term goal of the project, which, over time, will redound to their benefit. She told The Gleaner: "Persons need to know the boundaries for the area, and under this project, we are putting up marker buoys, which will let persons know where the boundaries start and end.
"They can fish outside the boundary. We will also be putting in artificial reefs, which will help to enhance the fisheries in the area. As you know, with climate change, with unsustainable fishing among other things, the reefs have been damaged, so this is our way of trying to enhance the fisheries by having better reefs for the fish to grow in."