Status of coral reefs in Antigua & Barbuda: using data to inform management
The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has experienced major degradation of its coral reef ecosystems over the past 40+ years. The primary drivers of this degradation are multiple and are highly linked to anthropogenic influences, including over-exploitation and poor management of marine resources. The effectiveness of management actions in marine protected areas (MPAs) has often been hampered by a lack of data to inform management recommendations. This was emphasized by The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Coral Reef Report Card which highlighted not only the lack of data collection in Antigua and Barbuda and other Caribbean nations, but also illustrated how spatially dispersed available datasets are. The government of Antigua and Barbuda recognized the need for a marine data collection program to better inform the designation and management of MPAs as a tool to improve the health of the marine ecosystems. The Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) protocol has been identified as a means to address planning and management for marine areas. Three AGRRA surveys have been conducted in the years following the TNC 2016 report, in previously established managed areas: North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA) in 2017 and Nelson Dockyard National Park (NDNP) in 2019 as well as areas outlined for future management (Redonda in 2018). Our surveys were conducted to provide updated datasets to inform management for the aforementioned areas. While the results of these surveys mirror the underlying poor coral reef-health conditions, which have been shown to exist within the Caribbean region, they also highlight intra-site variation that exists within each survey location. This knowledge can be crucial in guiding management decisions in these marine areas, through zoning and other management prescriptions. Additionally, the marine surveys conducted around Redonda established useful marine baselines to aid in monitoring the island’s recovery following removal of terrestrial invasive species. This article provides an overview of data collected using the AGRRA methodology in marine zones across Antigua and Barbuda which have current or future management prescriptions and provides recommendations to demonstrate the data’s future utilization for marine conservation and management.
Area of Interest: Antigua