Case Study

Coral Reefs at the Centre of Bay Circulation

Reefal bays are a common type of bay system found along most Caribbean coasts including the Jamaican coastline. Fringing reefs, in particular, hug many parts of the coast, buffering shoreline wave action, providing protection for marine life and influencing sediment flow. Where the reef are associated with bays, the circulation maintained by the presence of the reef expands inner bay water outside the reef, effectively widening the bay and placing the reef at the centre of the bay system. Research carried out on the Hellshire southeast coast of Jamaica described the unique circulation patterns of the area, where four of seven bays are typical reefal bays. Inner bay waters exiting the channel reefs re-circulated into the back-reef – this circulation was localized and permanent around reefs as the signature circulation. Driving forces such as wind, over-the-reef flow and tidal changes were responsible for maintaining the reef circulation including its contractions and emanations. These findings are important in their implications for stabilizing and protecting these systems as well as the shoreline fringed by these reef. Many of these bays, for example, function as nurseries for marine and terrestrial species. Planktonic stages are directly influenced by current patterns and regimes. Characterising this type of circulation will aid in locating and protecting habitats conducive to plankton viability and survival, including reef growth and expansion. Additionally, where strong seaward currents are generated by the system, this presents a risk to swimmers and bathers caught in these currents.