Project Utila ’96

James Guest

The island's spectacular coral reefs have experienced an exponential increase in diving activity in the past few years. Project Utila 96 surveyed six baselines permanently marked by Project Utila 95 to monitor changes in the status of these reefs, including assessment of widespread bleaching, a situation which occurs when corals are subjected to major environmental stress and often leading to the death of all affected coral. The biotopes of Turtle Harbour Marine Reserve and a proposed reserve around Raggedy Cay were mapped: initial results indicated a depletion in populations of conch and lobsters through exploitation. The team commenced monitoring of the incidence of black band disease in Turtle Harbour, with a view to establishing a permanent monitoring programme in 1997. Talks to local schoolchildren were given on reef ecology and conservation. The success of the 1995 expedition and impetus for the 1996 expedition was largely due to its charismatic project leader, Mark Smith, who tragically died during a diving accident on 20th April 1996 in Scotland. James Guest will lead the 1997 return trip.