Date of Award

6-30-2016

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Jean Taylor Ellis

Second Advisor

Cuizhen Wang

Abstract

Human intervention is degrading coastal marine environments on a global scale. Coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems occupying coastal areas that provide a vast majority of consumable fish, recreational activities, and protection from extreme events, such as tropical cyclones. Unfortunately, as human development activities such as the construction of buildings, road infrastructure, and agriculture increase in coastal areas, so do the detrimental impacts on the health of coral reefs. Consequences of coastal development such as pollution, sedimentation, eutrophication, overfishing, and recreational activities have been linked to diminished coral health. A degraded coral ecosystem can often be identified by a reduction in coral cover and an increase in macroalgae. This change is associated with a phenomenon known as a phase shift that occurs in response to environmental stressors. This research investigates the relationships between increasing human development activities and coral and macroalgae extent on and surrounding the Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras. The extent of land development and coral reefs are classified from a series of Landsat images from 1985 to 2015. Coral reef healthiness is evaluated based on coral and macroalgae covers and their temporal variations. A spatial gridding system is used to assess the relatedness between the development pressures and the health of coral reefs over the 30-year period. Out of the 36 sampled grids, seven showed a statistically significant relationship between urban area change and a change in either coral or macroalgae populations. This study demonstrates the capability of remote sensing to monitor coral reefs responding to land development of Roatan, Honduras.

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