The team shifted focus to collect samples and data from 12 Mile Bank using both technical open-circuit and closed-circuit rebreather divers. The Central Caribbean Marine Institute's (CCMI) open-circuit tech team collected water and sediment samples for eDNA analysis, while their rebreather team created photomosaics and conducted additional fish surveys with Josh's help to comprehensively characterize the bank’s ecosystem. These in-water data were complemented by bathymetric mapping data generated by the excellent team from the University of Delaware Coastal Sediments, Hydrodynamics, and Engineering Lab.
Josh, Ryan, and Ashley focused their efforts principally on collecting coral samples to contribute to the lab’s ongoing population genetic connectivity studies. Our team successfully collected 35 samples of each target species: Montastraea cavernosa, Porites astreoides, and Stephanocoenia intersepta. Our intention was also to collect barrel sponge samples of the species, Xestospongia muta, but we were surprised to find this species absent from our dive locations on 12 Mile Bank. These samples were transported back to Harbor Branch, where our lab will work to extract, clean, amplify, and sequence them to further evaluate the genetic connectivity across the wider Caribbean and Tropical Western Atlantic.
The success of this research expedition would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of various organizations, including CCMI, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Working with a diverse scientific team was amazing, uniting experts with a common goal of advancing our understanding of these underwater ecosystems. The data and samples collected during this expedition will play a vital role in shaping future management guidelines for this bank.
We are immensely grateful for the opportunity to work and dive with our friends at CCMI. Our team looks forward returning to Grand Cayman and Little Cayman to collect additional samples for our genetic connectivity analyses in the coming months.
For highlights from the expedition, a curated photo album can be found at our Flickr!