Corals on the edge of existence

What better place to learn about coral reefs than on a coral reef. On Saturday, June 16th 2018, IYORTT took a group of 37 youths to the intertidal reefs at Salybia Bay, Toco –  yes, coral reefs are found in Trinidad.  Our group which comprised youths from the St. Jude’s Home for Girls, Marian House, Life Centre and the 6th Trinidad Sea Scouts were surprised at what they saw. The reef at Salybia Bay is a diverse fringing reef existing in less than ideal conditions and is very different from what we are accustomed to in our sister isle of Tobago.

Exposed reef flats.

At low spring tides the reef flat is exposed allowing for easy access by foot. On this occasion, this accessibility allowed us to use this system as a beautiful outdoor classroom to learn about reef ecology and biodiversity.

For many, this was either their first visit to any reef, or their first visit to this type of reef. They were not disappointed. The Salybia reef is a finger coral ( the scientific name is Porites porites) reef that is home to many interesting plants and animals that make up the coral reef ecosystem. These include soft corals, hard corals, hermit crabs, marine algae, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, eels, sea urchins, rays, turtles, lobsters, octopus, fishes and conch (see pics below). Whilst the role of these reefs in shoreline protection, fisheries and recreation was evident, the highlight was the biodiversity it supports. Our participants were enthralled and very receptive of the knowledge we had to share about this reef and its inhabitants. Many had the makings of the next generation of marine scientists with keen questions and sharp observations, in some cases spotting well camouflaged creatures before we did.

Members of the group in search of organisms in a tidal pool.

Salybia reef gives us an opportunity to understand how coral reefs are likely to be affected by climate change. Because they are so shallow and exposed to the heat and sun at low tide, they exist in a wide range of temperatures that would otherwise kill most corals. Additionally, the warm turbid waters and impacts of nearby coastal development exacerbate this stressful environment.

One of the key messages of this programme is – despite the many threats facing our reefs, in order to safeguard their future and the biodiversity they support we need more scientist, communicators and decision makers that value these reefs…our reefs as much as these kids did.

Showing off a slimy sea-cucumber.

IYORTT hopes that everyone learnt something new and now have a greater understanding and appreciation of these valuable ecosystems and the biodiversity they harbor.

Thanks to all our volunteers on the day. Thanks to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for assisting with transportation.

Thanks to all our participants, it was a pleasure sharing our knowledge with you. Looking forward to the next trip and to BioBlitz 2018 which is scheduled for Toco this year!


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