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‘Rainforests of the Sea’

SteneckUniversity of Maine marine scientist Bob Steneck encouraged Dominican Republic officials and stakeholders to preserve and improve coral reefs — what he calls the tropical rainforests of the sea — in a keynote address on World Oceans Day, in Santo Domingo.

“They contain 25 percent of all species on Earth. However, they are also among the world’s most endangered ecosystems and, as such, the biodiversity, breakwater function, food resources and ecotourism value they provide for people are all at risk,” says Steneck.

“They are threatened worldwide but this is especially obvious in the Dominican Republic, where competing activities, such as coastal development and fishing pressure, have taken their toll.”

Steneck encouraged the Dominican Republic government and nongovernment organizations to work together to preserve reefs that are healthy and continue efforts to improve those that are degraded. His recommendations included banning the harvesting of parrotfish and investing in enforcement.

Although coral reefs suffer from global climate change and ocean acidification, Steneck says there are remarkable bright spots.

While quantifying corals, seaweed and sponges in transects in March, Steneck says he and fellow researchers found a wide range of reef conditions, from the bright spots — some of the best coral in all of the Caribbean — to some of the most degraded.

Repeatedly, it appeared the presence of healthy fish populations, especially parrotfish, corresponded with the healthiest coral reefs, says Steneck, a professor of oceanography, marine biology and marine policy based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine.

“The Dominican Republic is a remarkably diverse country,” says Steneck. “However, its greatest diversity may lie underwater and out of sight of most people.”

The vibrant reefs, he says, were within sight of the border with Haiti, while reefs adjacent to Punta Cana, the heavily populated easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, were the most degraded.

About 400 people attended Steneck’s keynote at the conference, which was sponsored by Propagas Foundation. Creative lighting and decorations made the conference room appear to be underwater, he says.

Several media outlets, including El Dia, covered Steneck’s speech (eldia.com.do/experto-revela-deterioro-de-arrecifes). Steneck also was a guest on two radio shows before returning to Maine.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

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