In yet another blow to the valuable coral reefs surrounding Barbados, a top marine researcher, Susan Mahon President of the Coral Reef Restoration Alliance (CORALL), revealed the ashfall from St Vincent’s La Soufrière volcanic eruption has caused significant damage to the island’s coral reefs.
Susan Mahon told Q 100.7 FM radio Wednesday the harm done varied with the type of coral. Mahon’s revelations point to additional pressure on the fragile, living corals that undergird the island’s lifestyle and livelihoods. In the same week, a University of the West Indies report identified millions of dollars in reef damage from the anchorage of cruise ships off the island’s west coast as they sought shelter during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Appearing as a panellist on the CBC radio show Let’s Talk About It on ‘Reimagine, Recreate and Restore Land and Sea’, Mahon, a former research director of the Bellairs Research Institute of McGill University, said the alliance was formed in 2016 to foster the restoration and conservation of coral reef ecosystems.
She described how the ashfall which descended on Barbados on April 10 damaged some of the coral in its nurseries.
“We were quite worried about that because you could see how the ash settled on the land and how it affected us on the land and we were really quite worried that it would have a really drastic effect and so we went out and we looked and we saw that in the area where we have our pilot for our nursery, the ash came onto the beach as well and it was in the water close by for about four days but then it gradually dissipated through the energy of the waves and the currents,” Mahon said.
“When we first went out and looked at the corals in our nurseries, the ones that were on the trees weren’t really as much affected it seems because the fragments wave around in the water and the trees are a little bit flexible as well in the water and so the ash didn’t really seem to settle on them as much as the ones in our other nurseries.
“In the pilot coral nursery we have branching corals and they are a different kind to our other nurseries so the other nurseries have elkhorn and brain corals and they were covered over in patches and they seemed a little sickly, like the brain corals the colour of them was a little bleached out for some of them and the elkhorn corals they were small patches of volcanic ash on them and now we’ve looked at them recently they don’t seem as bad. The brain corals seem to have recovered and the elkhorn corals have patches, but the patches are a relatively small area in comparison to the whole thing.”
The coral reefs surrounding the island are vital players in the marine ecosystem with often unseen roles in the island’s fishing, marine recreation, beach formation and coastal protection.