Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program

Scuba Diver

Photo: R. Ritson-Williams


Scientists in Boat
Early Carribbean expedition, 1971. The team included (left to right) Arnfried Antonius, Klaus Ruetzler, Tom Waller, Arthur Dahl, and Water Adey (missing are Porter Kier, Ian Macintyre, and Mary Rice). Photo courtesy of Mary Rice.


In the late 1960’s, a group of scientists from the National Museum of Natural History began to look for a Caribbean field site to establish a long-term and multi-disciplinary research program to further the understanding of shallow-water marine ecosystems.  Their focus was the most diverse marine ecosystem on Earth: coral reefs.  Surveys revealed that Belize represented a pristine location with a high diversity of organisms and reef types.  In 1972, they located a small island in southern Belize and negotiated a short term lease with the island’s owners, Henry and Alice Bowman.  The island sat adjacent to a reef tract that met the team's scientific requirements, and would later prove ideally situated for the study of nearby mangrove and seagrass ecosystems. The research station, and the relationship with the Bowman family, have lasted over 35 years and continue today.

Carrie Bow Cay 1973

View from the dock in 1973. Photo courtesy of Mary Rice.

That original team consisted of Walter H. Adey, Department of Paleobiology, a specialist in fossil and modern coralline algae; Ian G. Macintyre, Paleobiology, a carbonate sedimentologist studying calcification, reef-building organisms, and reef evolution; Arthur L. Dahl, Botany, an algal ecologist; Mary E. Rice, Invertebrate Zoology, an expert in sipunculan worm systematics and developmental biology; Tom Waller, Paleobiology, a malacologist focusing on the systematics and distribution of scallops in time and space; Arnfried Antonius, a postdoctoral fellow in Invertebrate Zoology working on stony corals; and Klaus Ruetzler, Invertebrate Zoology, a sponge biologist with an interest in reef ecology and bioerosion.


Scuba Diver
Ian Macintyre diving at Carrie Bow Cay, circa 1973. Photo courtesy of Mary Rice.

The long-term success and continuity of the CCRE Program and Carrie Bow Cay field station is the result of the hard work of many Smithsonian staff and volunteers, most notably program director Klaus Ruetzler and operations manager Mike Carpenter.

Despite many hurdles such as erosion, hurricane damage, and a devastating fire, Carrie Bow Cay continues to operate year-round, hosting over 100 scientists a year. CCRE has made significant contributions to marine science with over 880 publications.



A New Chapter

Scuba Diver
Scuba Diver at Carrie Bow Cay, 2008. Photo courtesy of Raphael Ritson-Williams

In late 2009, administrative and logistical support for CCRE moved to the Smithsonian Marine Station (SMS) at Fort Pierce, FL, under the leadership of Valerie Paul. Scientists at SMS, including Dr. Paul's Chemical Ecology Lab, have utilized the Carrie Bow Cay station for many years.

The Smithsonian Institution has recently posed some big questions in its Strategic Plan and challenged its hundreds of scientific researchers to answer: How biologically diverse is the Earth? What does the planet's history teach us about the global impacts of environmental change today? And how can we ensure the survival of habitats and ecosystems that are so crucial to human life and well-being? The Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program and its field station at Carrie Bow Cay will continue to be a vital resource to the scientific community as it seeks answers to these challenging questions.




Further Reading:

Click on the following link for a detailed history of CCRE:

Ruetzler, K. 2008. Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems:Thirty-Five Years of Smithsonian Marine Science in Belize. Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences, Number 38.



[ TOP ]