Tim Noyes conducting a fish survey off Kittery Beach, Guantanamo, Cuba.</p>

Tim Noyes conducting a fish survey off Kittery Beach, Guantanamo, Cuba.

Since 1903 the United States has operated a Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay (also called Gitmo or GTMO) at the southeastern end of Cuba. While this area is most widely known for its detention facility, it is also home to some of the most pristine coral reefs in the Caribbean, including the famous "Gardens of the Queen" reef first discovered by Christopher Columbus. Unfortunately, these reefs are susceptible to many of the same threats as other reefs in the Caribbean and the Florida Keys: coral diseases (e.g., white band disease), damage from hurricanes, coral bleaching associated with warming surface waters, and impacts from human activities (e.g., fishing).

In 2007 the U.S. Navy funded a study to quantify the status and relative health of the coral reefs and reef fish populations at GTMO. Following the report from this study, in 2011 the U.S. Navy contracted the Coral Reef Ecology & Optics Lab (CREOL) at BIOS to conduct a more thorough assessment of the ecosystem, with measurement of:

  • Percent cover of sessile and motile benthic organisms and substrates;
  • Scleractinian coral diversity;
  • Scleractinian coral recruitment;
  • Presence and densities of coral diseases, coral bleaching, and fish predation on corals;
  • Rugosity;
  • Reef fish population levels;
  • Abundances of grazers and predators; and
  • Water quality.

Using a combination of methods, including permanent survey sites, transects, quadrat photos, stationary and roving fish counts, and a comprehensive reefscape asseessment, researchers were able to reveal the variety of processes impacting the reefs at GTMO.  The final report was submitted to the U.S. Navy in 2012 and provides a detailed account of changes to the GTMO reefs and reef fish populations over the last 5 years.