Vauxhall Reef & Environs 2024

On the State of Vauxhall Reef in early 2024

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Effects of 2023 extreme warming events on the 3 Acroporoids

SCTLD 2024

Still Thriving

THE VICISSITUDES OF 2023
It was all well and good, it seemed, for the Vauxhall Reef when I last viewed Vauxhall  Reef in 2020.  I looked forward to future years and documenting the development of new reef through growth of Acropora prolifera, and over time,  getting to know the many residents of this reef. Then came 2023!

In early 2023 we returned to Barbados, Holetown area, after missing a couple of years due to Covid-related issues at home. I was on the lookout for SCTLD (Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease) which I had read about in 2018 and the ominous forecasts of what it could do to Caribbean reefs. It was working its way south from Florida through the Caribbean but  in 2020, it was still well away.  However, by 2022 it had spread to the southern Caribbean, and there was a report of its possible occurrence  on deeper reefs on the west coast of Barbados…

Corals on landward corner of The Wreck on Jan 11, 2023
Click on photo for larger version

On my first excursion on Vauxhall Reef in 2023, on Jan 11 ” I looked out for SCTLD-infected corals on a route approx. perpendicular from shore that took me across the Reef Flat, Diploria-Palythoa, Reef Crest, Seaward Slope and Reef Front zones (Lewis 1960), to ‘The Wreck”.  I saw only one obviously infected coral, that in the outer Reef Crest zone, until I reached The Wreck where there were many, and at least some of them appear to fit the description for Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease”.  Documenting it’s further development would be my obsession for the next 3 months; with collaboration of CORALL and Geography students from McGill, enough evidence was obtained by May 2023 for AGRRA to confirm the presence of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in Barbados – see Post, May 8, 2023.

This disease attacks mainly brain corals.  It developed rapidly in 2023, and my first views of the reef in early 2024 illustrated that the reputation of SCTLD as the worst coral disease ever, is well deserved (more to follow…).

Blessfully,  SCTLD does not attack the Acroporoids.  However,  2023 turned out to be the most extreme Caribbean high temperature mass coral bleaching event yet‘ in the words of Tom Goreau, describing the situation in Jamaica, and Barbados was not spared. It hit the Acroporoids – all 3 species – particularly hard.

So the reef I returned to in early 2024 was very  different from that I had observed in earlier years. Nevertheless, there remains much that was not affected or only partially affected by the combined whammy of SCTLD and the extreme warming events. Some species will recover in full or in part, others will expand, and there will be new challenges. The reef will continue to change.

So it remains  a place to celebrate, study, and nurture.