Seven adventure packed days have passed since I left for Saint Lucia, we started right off the bat scuba diving the day after we arrived. We extruded sediment cores next to the reefs at two sites in Soufriere Bay to be analyzed by geologists in a lab at Eckerd college.
The first dives were amazing, they were my first salt water dives and it did not disappoint! The amount of skills and knowledge I have gained already is amazing, the hands-on experience is invaluable. We were trained on how to take benthic (coral) surveys to estimate total coral coverage in 18 different sites near Soufriere. We also learned how to take fish surveys to estimate fish populations.
We are vey lucky to be working with a trail-blazing organization here called the Soufriere Marine Management Association (SMMA). They were officially established in 1995, to address the many issues affecting the marine and coastal environment in Soufriere. The SMMA Rangers have graciously opened their doors to us, taxi us to our dive sites and have made us feel very welcome. The amount of support they receive and adversity they face with the locals fluctuates. The SMMA has created MPA’s (marine protection areas) where fisherman cannot fish in Soufriere, Canaries and Anse La Reye. Initially MPA’s does make the livelihood of those who depend on the fishing industry more difficult. This creates animosity towards the SMMA by some locals. About 65% of Saint Lucia’s GDP comes from tourism, so healthy reefs not only create a better fishing industry but is also better for tourism. We also worked with a British gentleman named James, who specializes in sustainable tourism. He has trained 3 locals in Canaries, Saint Lucia, to Rescue Diver status. A group of us went diving with them to teach them how to survey the reefs themselves which was a huge honor to be a part of. The majority of Saint Lucians don’t swim, so to become a rescue diver and learn to survey the reefs is huge, they are pioneering an industry and paving the way for local scientists and environmentalists.
Many of the issues the SMMA faces including different industries competing for reef resources, a polluted and eroding watershed, sedimentation accumulating on the reefs, and declining coral and fish populations are very difficult to address with the resources and information available. It is an honor to be a part of the team conducting research here to fill in the holes of data that is needed to make educated decisions on what can be done to preserve the marine and coastal environments here. For the health of the ecosystem and the sake of the people that rely on the valuable natural resources that stem from these environments.
The main purpose of this course is for us to be able to collect the data and be able to accurately analyze it and present our findings to the SMMA, and to plan and execute actions that mitigate local stressors to the coral reefs; but we are experiencing so much more along the way. We’ve taken a few day excursions; hiked through rainforest terrain to a waterfall, learned to splice rope, went to the volcanic sulfur springs and took mineral mud baths in hot springs.
We also prepared materials and activities to teach at local schools about the impact of watershed erosion and pollution on the coral reefs and the marine environment surrounding Saint Lucia. So far this trip has been full of valuable learning experiences and has provided us with so much opportunity, and it’s only half over!
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