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Coral Reefs in Jamaica

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snorkeling_in_jamaicaCoral Reefs in Jamaica

By Venesha Johnson |  Associate Writer

From scuba diving, snorkelling and even through glass bottom boat rides, many have done various activities to be able to see the beautiful coral reefs in Jamaica.

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While our coral reefs are absolutely breathtaking, they are more than just pretty objects in the sea. They are quite important to the underwater ecosystem and because of that, we have a duty to protect them.

Are there coral reefs in Jamaica?

Yes, Jamaica definitely has coral reefs.

How many coral reefs are in Jamaica?

Jamaica has 1240 km2 of coral reef. There are approximately 64 hard coral species, 43 soft coral species and 8 black coral species. Just over 50% of Jamaica's coastline is surrounded by fringing, patch, and barrier reefs within 50 meters of the beach.

  • Hard Corals- Elkhorn and staghorn corals are examples of hard corals that grow in colonies and are frequently referred to as "reef-building corals." Calcium carbonate, a dense material that eventually turns into rock, is used by hard corals to build their skeletons.

  • Soft Corals- Soft and pliable, soft corals, including sea fingers and sea whips, frequently resemble plants or trees. These corals don't produce reefs and don't have stony skeletons; instead, they develop fleshy rinds and wood-like cores for protection.

  • Black coral- These are an order of soft deep-water corals known as an Antipatharian, often referred to as black coral or thorn coral. The chitin skeletons of these corals are jet-black or dark brown, and they are surrounded by polyps, which are living coral parts.

  • Fringing Reefs- grow close to the shorelines of continents and islands. There are small, shallow lagoons separating them from the shore. The most prevalent kind of reef is one that is fringed.

  • Barrier Reefs- similarly run parallel to the coast, but are divided by larger, deeper lagoons. They can constitute a "barrier" to navigation at their shallowest locations, where they can even touch the surface of the water.

  • Patch Reefs- are tiny, solitary reefs that emerge from the continental shelf or island platform's open bottom. They typically exist between barrier reefs and fringing reefs. They come in a wide range of sizes and hardly ever break the surface of the water.

Where is the coral reef in Jamaica?

The majority of the north and east coasts have well-developed fringing reefs, but the south coast's wider shelf has patchier fringing reefs. Along with the reefs that surround Jamaica's peninsula, there are other reefs and corals on nearby banks and shoals that are part of Jamaica's Exclusive Economic Zone, including Brune Bank and the Pedro Cays to the south, the Morant Cays to the southwest, and the Formigas Banks to the northeast.

What is the importance of coral reefs in Jamaica?

The Caribbean region's marine species diversity is thought to be centred on the reefs of Jamaica. This is brought on by the unusually high habitat variety in Jamaica, which is found in a compact region, and its possible significance as a significant sanctuary for the fauna and plants of the Caribbean reefs during the Ice Ages.

Therefore, it is essential to preserve Jamaica's reef ecosystems as a whole in order to preserve the marine biodiversity of the Caribbean. Due to the rich biodiversity, they support, as well as their importance to fisheries, tourism, and shore protection, Jamaican reefs are highly valued as natural resources.

What happened to Jamaicaโ€™s coral reef?

In most cases, the impact of both natural and anthropogenic stressors on coastal ecosystems has led to a shift from coral to algal-dominated reefs. Due to these pressures, coral cover decreased from a peak of 50% in the 1970s to less than 5% by the early 1990s. Natural and human-made factors are putting more and more strain on Jamaica's coastal ecosystems.

Over time, "natural" phenomena like storms and bleaching events have become more common and more severe. Our islands' reefs are now often faced with problems like coral bleaching brought on by an abnormally high water temperature and increased frequency and incidence of strong hurricanes.

The frequency with which coastal ecosystems are under stress today means that they have less time to recuperate before the next catastrophic occurrence.

How can you protect the coral reefs in Jamaica?

  1. Avoid touching the reefs- The delicate coral organisms will be harmed by contact with the reef, and anchoring on the reef can cause coral death.
  2. Wear eco-friendly sunscreen- Oxybenzone and octinoxate are two prominent sunscreen chemicals that have been demonstrated to be harmful to coral reefs.
  3. Volunteer- Become a volunteer for the local beach or reef cleanups, even if you are a visitor but especially if you live close to the beach. 

With these in mind, if you are hoping to see the coral reefs in Jamaica, here are some ways to do so. 

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References & Sources For Coral Reefs in Jamaica

  1. Coral Reefs Ecology & Biodiversity - Coral Reef Alliance. (n.d.). Coral Reef Alliance.
  2. Jamaica | ICRI. (n.d.). ICRI.
  3. Coral Reef Protection in Western Jamaica. (n.d.). Coral Reef Protection in Western Jamaica.,%2C%20tourism%2C%20and%20shore%20protection
  4. 8 Easy Ways You Can Help Coral Reefs. (2021, May 25). The Nature Conservancy.
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