Jillian Lessing from Middlebury College conducting a coral survey during a Perry Institute of Marine Science expedition with the Angari Foundation from June 26 to July 4, 2019. [Photo Credit: Kevin Davidson]

Preparing for nightmare scenario: Team checking on Bahamas coral expects to see destruction

A team set out from West Palm Beach this week to test the coral in the Bahamas after Cat 5 Hurricane Dorian. The Northern Bahamas relies on its coral reefs for food and tourism dollars.

Scientist Craig Dahlgren has reared staghorn coral in the ice-blue waters of the Northern Bahamas for a decade, hanging pinky-size fragments on submerged trees of PVC piping and watching them grow.  After about a year, the golden-colored building blocks of Caribbean reefs can be planted to help rehabilitate areas stressed by warming oceans and disease.  It was going well, until Dorian.

“I’m preparing myself for the worst,” said Dahlgren, who sailed from West Palm Beach on Tuesday to evaluate reef health in Grand Bahama and Abaco following Hurricane Dorian. “Probably a lot of what we’ve done was destroyed.”

Dahlgren, executive director of the Vermont-based Perry Institute for Marine Science, believes the two-week expedition with the West Palm Beach-based Angari Foundation is one of the first scientific missions for reef analysis since Category 5 Dorian raked over the islands Labor Day weekend.

The foundation, started by sisters Angela and Kari Rosenberg, offers expeditions on its 65-foot research vessel at cost to educational and non-profit groups such as the Perry Institute.

Shelley Cant-Woodside, director of science and policy for the Bahamas National Trust, said she is relying on the institute for her first information on how the reefs fared and knows of no other coral surveys.

Mark Eakin, coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch, has likewise received no reports on the state of the necklace of corals that sustains a fragile ecosystem vital for ocean health, tourism and fishing.

“I haven’t heard a word and it can’t be pretty,” Eakin said. “When a storm sits there and churns it just sandblasts reefs and can be really devastating.”

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