Characterising the biodiversity
of Caribbean offshore seamounts to improve management
Funding: Darwin Plus award from the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Coral reef systems are increasingly threatened by local and global impacts, including overfishing and climate change. While nearshore ecosystems are particularly vulnerable due to their proximity to humans, offshore seamounts are increasingly targeted for commercial and recreational fishing and may also suffer from rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. Seamount communities are closely related to oceanic islands and often act as important stepping stones connecting populations across broad geographic gradients.
In the Cayman Islands, two seamounts (12-Mile Bank and Pickle Bank) rise above the 30 m depth contour and likely serve as important refuges for diverse benthic communities. Yet, little is known about the composition and dynamics of these seamount communities, hindering effective management and conservation efforts.
In this project, we combine in situ surveys and photogrammetry using advanced diving technologies (e.g., closed-circuit rebreathers, application of mixed gases, etc.) with non-invasive molecular techniques (eDNA) to expand our characterization of offshore seamount benthic and pelagic communities.
- We are comparing habitat features, patterns of biodiversity, and genetic diversity of seamounts with those of nearby coral reefs of Grand and Little Cayman across depth to assess the unique characteristics and potential ecological connectivity between these systems.
These efforts will result in high-resolution imagery of the benthos and estimates of the abundance and diversity of key benthic and pelagic species. Understanding how these unique ecosystems function and maintain biodiversity and increasing public awareness of pressing threats will help guide future management strategies.