A just released official report on the impact of Hurricane Dorian on coral reefs and the marine environments surrounding Abaco and Grand Bahama has found that between 25 to 30 percent of reefs were devastated, with debris, burial in silt, bleaching and loss of fish biomass.
On behalf of the Perry Institute for Marine Sciences (PIMS), Dr. Craig Dahlgren and Dr. Krista Sherman led researchers and scientists on a resurvey of 29 reef sites, including 28 reef sites that were assessed within 15 months before Hurricane Dorian and one site that was last assessed two years prior to the storm.
“Some of the reefs that experienced severe damage were the ones closest to coastal areas, impacted by debris from shore, particularly invasive casuarina trees that were uprooted during the storm and carried by tides and the retreating storm surge across reefs,” Dahlgren said in the report, which was submitted to the government earlier this month and made public on February 14.
“This resulted in smashed corals and destroyed reef structure. Such damage may be reduced in the future by removing these invasive species from shores and promoting natural shoreline protection.”
But while there was significant damage to more than a quarter of surrounding reefs, other reefs saw little damage and may have experienced short-term benefits from Hurricane Dorian in the form of the monster storm washing away certain seaweed which typically compete with the reefs, according to the report.
“Reefs that received little damage may also help to replenish many of the severely damaged reefs. Additional management interventions are likely necessary, however, to promote the recovery of damaged reefs, such as coral restoration and protective management,” Dahlgren said.
Coral reefs play a vital role in filtering the ocean ecosystem surrounding The Bahamas and are important to sustain the food chain for various species of fish and ocean wildlife upon which the local fisheries and tourism industries (the blue economy) are dependent.
The scientists also recommended the creation of additional marine-protected areas to build resilience in marine ecosystems; the removal of debris from the reefs as well as invasive casuarina trees from coastal areas; the restoration of coral reef areas and the development of a rapid response protocol for responding to disasters such as Hurricane Dorian.
Last month, the Ministry of the Environment and Housing and the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources proposed $5 million in funding for a coral restoration project on Abaco, which would include the establishment of a coral restoration center and a land-based aquaculture facility to support coral growth in nurseries.