Tidal Creek Restoration

Experimental manipulations remain a hallmark of ecological study, but replicated ecosystem-scale manipulations conducted at appropriate temporal and spatial scales remain rare. With respect to the study of ecosystem fragmentation, experimental manipulations at ecosystem scales are increasingly common in terrestrial systems such as forests and grasslands, but rarely have been attempted in aquatic systems due to logistical and ethical considerations. An alternative experimental approach is to restore hydrologic connectivity (i.e., reduce the degree of fragmentation) at the ecosystem scale and track food web structural changes. With dozens of fragmented tidal creek ecosystems in the Bahamas, there are numerous opportunities to manipulate the degree of connectivity through restoration, thereby providing an excellent opportunity for hypothesis-driven research. Over the past 3 years, I have worked to develop a diverse team of collaborating partners (Friends of the Environment, Bahamas National Trust, The Nature Conservancy), and our shared vision is to conduct a series of creek restoration projects throughout the Bahamas and to use them as a tool for integration of scientific research and education. Local stakeholder groups, the NGO’s, and government agencies will spearhead the restoration projects, while I will be lead partner on all research and education. This framework provides for unprecedented opportunities to develop rigorous graduate research projects testing basic tenets of ecological theory, including questions based of food web dynamics, the trajectory of change in ecosystem function following restoration, community assembly, and the value of estuaries as nursery habitats.

The pictures on this page are from the Cross Harbour creek restoration completed in April 2006. This project restored tidal flow to >130 hectares of mangrove wetland, providing new habitat for juvenile fishes and significantly increasing the nursery function of the system. We currently are using acoustic telemetry to track fish movement patterns through the new tidal channel, and especially to document fishes that move from the previously fragmented wetland to adjacent coral reefs in the nearshore marine environment. This work is linked to our community outreach program entitled “Adopt a Fish, Adopt a School” in which donors purchase telemetry tags and donate them to local schools. Students then have their “own” fish they can track, and ultimately see if it moves from the restored wetland to the marine environment.