This coral has been alive for a very long time…
With fantastic help from Victor Galvan and the team at the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation, we found a few underwater sites with potential for the dermal denticle project. The foundation also showed us their successful coral nursery and out-planting sites for Acropora cervicornis, which is being placed on dead reefs for recolonization. A no-take zone that covered one reef site was impressively full of fish for a degraded reef site, a sign that populations can recover quite quickly, even in a small area where no fishing is allowed.
Blue Vision Adventures kindly gave us access to their excellent dive facilities.
We made it to Las Clavellinas and its monstrous wall of Acropora Cervicornis, a reef-building coral that is a threatened species today but was clearly abundant in Caribbean reefs 7,000 years ago. Here we collected another five bulk samples (10-kilogram cloth bags), and ten smaller bags, that will be brought to Panama and painstakingly picked apart for their tiny shark dermal denticles (all 25 or so per bag), sponge spicules, mollusks, and corals. The amazing Mauro Lepore and Félix Rodríguez were the climbers-in-chief, but everyone on the team had the chance to hack a bag of samples out of the hard fossil wall.
The fossil coral reef at Cañada Honda, on the north coast of Lake Enriquillo, is one of the best studied in the region.
This incredible site shows a near-perfect section of a coral reef, starting with 10-meter thickets of Acropora cervicornis at the top of the section, where the reef crest would have been. This is a coral that today is threatened with extinction. Yet we know from high-resolution carbon dating by Lisa Greer and colleagues, that here this coral grew uninterrupted for more than 1,000 years.
Just like diving over a reef crest onto the fore-reef, walking down the storm canyon we found ourselves into deeper parts of the reef core, first dominated by Orbicella colonies of many different forms and almost all in life position and finally many huge colonies of Siderastrea.
Coral reefs are complex ecosystems, composed of many species of fish, sponge and corals and molluscs, and sites like Cañada Honda give allow us to capture this complexity in reefs before human impact.