Third in our series of projects comes our teammate, Kris! Kris is going to be carrying out his very own project this summer in the Wadi el Gemal National Park and is here to tell us all about it!

Project title: Using benthic and fish community composition to evaluate coral reef health within the Wadi el Gemal National Park

So, what is the significance behind your project?

Over the past 50 years, it has become apparent that coral reefs have been considerably impacted by both global and localised man-made stressors. Globally, decreases in ocean pH, increasing sea surface temperatures (SST), and outbreaks of disease have all contributed to large-scale coral mortality. At a local level, increases in sedimentation, pollution and overfishing, are typical consequences of deforestation and coastal development, and are considered major culprits of depleting reef longevity. Increased nutrients coupled with the removal of key herbivores can reduce corals’ abundance through facilitating promotional increases of faster-growing, more competitive algae. Potentially leading to an ecosystem phase-shift (a dramatic change in the ecology of a habitat/system, that is typically less diverse and “un-healthy”, i.e. from coral dominated to algae dominated state). Red Sea reefs have had substantial declines and ecosystem shifts in response to costal development, however studies in this region are not evenly distributed, and therefore insufficient evaluation of coral reef health is present. A slow increase in annual tourism is incentivising coastal development within the Wadi el Gemal region and, subsequently risking local reef health. Therefore, due to the pristine nature of reefs and lack of surveys in this region, it is critical that significant baseline evaluations are conducted to determine current coral reef health. This evaluation can act as a bench mark for future environmental management programs as well as allowing a comparison of reef community composition, before and after wide scale development to and environmental impact.

How are you going to carry out the project?

A common method many ecologist and environmental mangers use to determine the health of an environmental is to look at its community composition. The presence absence of key species often can show what environmental factors are influencing the surrounding environment along with the ecosystems productivity. In coral reef ecosystems both fish and benthic (organisms that live on the sea floor) species diversity is often a good indicator of reef health (i.e. higher the diversity, the healthier reef). In our project we aim to use the presence and percentage cover of key benthic groups (coral, coraline algae, turf alga and, fleshy macroalgae) along with the abundance and diversity of fish on a reef to determine that reefs health. Our project will be split in to two types of data collection. First, we will conduct a benthic survey by taking photographs of a 1m2 quadrate at 2m intervals along a 100m transect. We will then use the software CPCe to identify what benthic organisms are present and determine what percentage of the reef they occupy. Secondly, we will then preform a video fish census of the same transect to find out what species of fish in habit that reef and how many herbivores, corallivores, omnivores and piscivores species are present. These, surveys will be conducted at various reefs with in the Wadi el Gemal national park, some being close to current coastal development, others on outer undeveloped isnads 10km offshore. This is done to see if current coastal development is impacting coral reef health. All surveys will be conducted at 5 and 10 m to allow for an overall representation of the reef community.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to in the Egypt Expedition?

As I have previously been on this expedition back in 2016, I am looking forward to returning and researching in some of the most beautiful marine habitats on the planet, all while having fun and great experiences with my teammates.

 

You can support our expedition (click here!) by donating to our page – we are extremely grateful for every donation, no matter how small. We’d also like to thank everyone for supporting us so far, through donations, attending our fundraisers, or by other means.

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