By Jenna Chaplin and Emily Blair
The drive to protect the coastline in Belize doesn’t end at the water’s edge: the most important need for protection can be out of sight, under the crashing surf. Reefs play a critical role in the reduction of wave energy. The Mesoamerican barrier reef off the coast of Belize is also dotted with , atolls and mangrove islands that rise above the sea (Fig.1: Laughing Bird Caye and Fragments of Hope research catamaran). We traveled to Placencia, Belize, and saw what a positive difference these reefs made along Belize's Caribbean coast.
Different strategies have been tried around the world to protect the corals that make up the reefs. Lisa Fragments of Hope coral nursery is a good example of these efforts. Based in Placencia, seven coral nurseries extend throughout the barrier reef and within the lagoon. We visited the nursery at Laughing Bird Caye, a six-year-old project. Fragments of Hope grows Staghorn (Acropora )(Fig.2), Elkhorn (Acropora )(Fig.3), and their hybrid (Acropora )(Fig.4) coral species in its nursery, transplanting them later onto the reef.
Although the main goal of Fragments of Hope is to increase biodiversity on the reef, this research has also driven home the importance of looking below the water to reframe the coastal strategies that could be employed in the face of dynamic weather and rising sea levels.
The name Fragments of Hope comes from the coral fragments cultivated in the nursery. Initial fragments, two to three inches long, that are particularly resistant to coral bleaching and disease, come from nearby reefs. The coral genotypes are pinpointed at the University of Miami in order to identify what makes them disease and stress resistant. The nursery, located on the protected, leeward side of the Caye at a depth of -15ft (Fig. 5), makes use of metal frames, concrete “cookies” and ropes to support the variety of corals as they grow (Fig. 6). After growing for three years, the corals will reach six inches and be ready to plant on the reef in one of five study locations around Laughing Bird Caye. Researchers come from around the world to study these plots.
The reef is in an ideal location inside the Laughing Bird Caye National Park. The coral nursery is home to some of the healthiest stands of Acropora corals in the area, if not the region. This effort draws many tourists to the reef and encourages locals to respect the habitat. When we visited the after Hurricane Earl, we could see hurricane wave damage. Some corals were broken off and others rolled upside down. Carne reassured us that when she began the nursery five years ago, she too was distressed at overturned or broken coral fragments but the corals are adapted to this experience and many fragments asexually, and form new stands. Literally, Fragments of Hope.
Emily Blair and Jenna Chaplin are graduates of the Masters of Landscape Architecture program at the Graduate School of Design. Emily is originally from Vancouver, Canada and has a background in Biology and Jenna is from the Bahamas with a background in Fine Arts. Both Emily and Jenna have returned to their hometowns after graduating in 2017, and Jenna is now planning on getting her Coral Nursery Dive certification in order to be involved in local reef restoration programs.