Coral reefs are hugely important. They foster plant and animal biodiversity, help defend shores from storms and waves, and draw visitors to countries that depend on tourism.
But these benefits - known as “ecosystem services” - are under threat. Many reefs and the seagrass beds, mangrove creeks, and patch reefs (small reefs in shallow water) that border them suffer from global climate change, overfishing, and coastal development.
How can we save these beautiful and valuable environments? Marine reserves - areas open for tourism but not fishing or other destructive activities - are key. But for reserves to work, they must be well designed. Biologists already know that strong marine reserves must include seagrass beds, mangroves, and coral habitats to best support fish. But most tropical seas have lots of these habitats. Which should be part of marine reserves?
Help find an answer by snorkeling in the clear waters off the Bahamas, identifying fish and observing their behavior. You’ll explore fascinating mangrove creeks and patch reefs, which provide safe “nurseries” for some fish species. You’ll also record environmental data such as water depth, flow rate, and density of plant life. And, through experiments in an aquarium lab, you’ll track fish behavior in conditions that simulate different habitat quality and presence of predators. Armed with these data, researchers can begin to truly understand how to protect these rich aquatic environments.