Coral reef ecosystems harbor tremendous biodiversity, perform important functions in the biogeochemical cycles of the planet, and provide the foundation upon which humans create unique and diverse relationships with nature.
In the summer of 2012, I traveled to Buen Hombre, Dominican Republic—a community of 600 residents on the northwestern coast of the country—to assess the status and functioning of coral reef fisheries accessed by artisanal fishermen. With the help of an undergraduate research assistant, Molly Wilson ’13, I performed fish-community surveys, benthic assessments, catch surveys, and social research on how the fishing system in Buen Hombre operates.
Thanks to the scuba equipment purchased with the Alumni Research Award, I was able to sample deeper reef sites that play an important role in the ecological dynamics of the area. We found that nearshore reefs are heavily exploited to the point that some areas have collapsed into an unhealthy, algae-dominated state.
Herbivorous fish maintain coral health by clearing away macro-algae that can outcompete slow-growing hard corals for space. This presents a major challenge for fisheries management because parrotfish, the Caribbean’s most abundant and effective herbivore, currently comprise at least fifty percent of fishermen’s catch in Buen Hombre.
The Alumni Research Award was an integral part of my experience in Buen Hombre, allowing me to perform more thorough and productive research. My future work will include modeling fish population dynamics to help the community and resource managers establish harvest guidelines and promote ecosystem recovery.
by Tyler Pavlowich, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB)
Photo courtesy of Tyler Pavlowich