First days in Jamaica
October 10th 2013 I caught a plane in Honolulu, the next day I arrived in Montigo Bay, Jamaica. I came with a friend of mine, Dr. Phill Dustan. We are here to rediscover Discovery Bay. Phill first visited Jamaica in the winter of 1969, and returned promptly that spring in 1970. At that time Discovery Bay Marine Lab was a small cinder block building that used to be the one-chilling beach house. It was out of that lab that modern Coral Reef Biology was born. Tom Goreau began the marine lab and was the first to write about coral polyp calcification being enhanced by algal photosynthesis (Light-Enhanced Calcification). When Phill came in 1970 Tom had raised enough money to move the marine lab to it’s current site across the bay. Phill, a young grad student, was an integral part in the original set up and design of the new marine lab. Tragically, Tom Goreau did not live to see his dream lab come to life. He died of cancer that May 1970. Fortunately for Phill once completed, the lab was an open playground for equipment, lab space, boats, and enthusiastic fellow scientists. Phill spent summer 1970-73 in Discovery Bay , working on his Masters Thesis. He came back in1975 with Jacques Cousteau and The Cousteau Society, and again in 1978 during his Post Doc. After 35 years (Thanks to funding from the WAITT Fundation Phill Dustan has returned to revisit his old study site. His hope is to find the same transect line that has been lying on the reef for over 40 years! When he laid the transect line with Norman Copland in July 1970, it stretched from 75ft to 190ft. On October 12, 2013 we found the original transect line, partially engulfed but intact along the reef in Discovery Bay. However it is far from the same reef that Phill once new so well.
In 1980, Jamaica experienced the side effects of a massive off shore hurricane. It only took 12 hours of the 30ft swells to destroy what took coral polyps1000’s of years to build. Recovery has been very difficult for Discovery Bay reef. A combination of stress factors from over fishing, Bauxite mining/ exporting and a second hurricane in 1988 has left the reef vulnerable to disease and algae overgrowth.
October 12 was my first day under the water here in Jamaica. I had reviewed the pictures of what the reef structure looked like back in the 70’s. Our goal was to find and mark the old transect line and recapture some of the same shots of the reef that Phill had took back in his graduate study days. Amazingly we did! Although the reef has drastically changed, the skeletons of the once thriving coral communities left enough clues and land marks for us to capture some of the shifts that has occurred in the last 35 years.
In the next two weeks we will repeat the transect lines and remeasure the corals that had been marked with a color stain for age growth analysis. The data will offer interesting and significant comparisons. Sadly the reef tells it’s own story quite well, without the interpretation of science. For me, the visual comparison between the photos that Phill took and the scene I have witnessed is like looking at the ruins of a great civilization. I can only imagine the emotion that Phill is experiencing while trying to maintain an objective approach to his study. But some science needs emotion.