A once vibrant and colorful section of Temae Reef off the coast of Mo‘orea has been reduced to rubble by a 2009 crown-of-thorns invasion and a 2010 cyclone.
Scientists say they think the starfish-devastated parts of the reef will come back. Growing populations of herbivorous fish are eating algae off the dead coral, suggesting that the system won’t remain in an algal state like other crushed reefs that have not fully recovered.
“Herbivorous fish are going like gangbusters, and that’s a good sign,” explains Chris Meyer, a zoologist and curator at the Smithsonian Institution and Biocode Project director. “Moreover there are plenty of smaller animals still living within the nooks and crannies of the reef.”
Biocode is a four-year, $5 million effort to collect, document, and genetically sequence the non-microbial biodiversity of the island. When the project wraps up this year, it will be the first time a complex tropical ecosystem has been catalogued in such detail. Biocode scientists have come from around the world to find and “barcode” the species they specialize in—from fungi, snails, insects and plants, to algae, crabs, marine worms, and coral. DNA bar coding uses genetic markers to identify species and offers a simple, standardized way to analyze lifecycles and interactions.