Black band disease.
Black band disease.

The Marine Environmental Program (MEP) is funded annually by the Government of Bermuda Department of Environmental Protection to help meet the Department’s mission to protect Bermuda’s environment by conducting routine monitoring of marine resources.  The baseline objectives for MEP are to:

  • Provide long-term data sets to assess the health and status of the marine environment;
  • Detect changes in the marine environment;
  • Understand the significance of existing sources of pollution;
  • Identify new potential sources of pollution; and
  • Delineate the effects of local and regional (climate-related) stresses.

As of 2012, MEP, part of the Coral Reef Ecology and Optics Lab (CREOL), has two complementary components:

Water Quality Monitoring Program (WQMP) consists of monthly water sampling at 12 predominantly near-shore locations, including the major basins of St. George’s, Castle, and Hamilton Harbours, Harrington and Great Sounds.  One site is approximately six km offshore in the central lagoon.  Parameters include dissolved inorganic nutrients (nitrate+nitrite, ammonium, phosphate), temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and chlorophyll breakdown products, particulate organic carbon, particulate organic nitrogen, and oxygen.  These are the parameters that provide basic information on the physical and chemical environment of Bermuda’s near-shore waters.

Benthic Community Mapping Program (BCMP) is designed to provide spatially explicit information on the structure and distribution of benthic biological communities across the Bermuda platform.  This information is developed using state-of-the-art remote sensing technology coupled with industry standard image processing and analysis techniques.  Data and map products developed under BCMP in the first year represent a baseline of reef ecosystem condition, as described by the current benthic community composition.  Repeating the process in future years allows for ecosystem change detection.

Together, WQMP and BCMP describe a snapshot of the ecosystem.  Conducted on a continuing basis, they provide a moving picture of the ecosystem as it undergoes change owing to natural and anthropogenic forcings.  This combined program can both identify where/when change occurs and describe what is driving the ecosystem change.  In addition, WQMP and BCMP provide fundamental input data for assessing reef function: biogeochemical processes such as primary production, calcification, and nutrient uptake that move material and energy through the ecosystem.  This is an important future direction that MEP research may take as resources for such investigations become available. Data from all MEP activities, including discontinued monitoring programs, will be available online in the near future.