National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian Institution

Research and Collections


Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems (CCRE)
Carrie Bow Cay, Belize

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History - of the CCRE Program

Carrie Bow Cay - The Island

Facilities - Available at the site

Focal Research Areas  

Bibliography (1972 - 2008)
publications base on research conducted at the CCRE
(Adobe Acrobat PDF files)

CCRE Report 2009

Dr. Aguillar (Ministry of  Nautral Resources) at the re-dedication of the Carrie Bow Cay marine field station

CCRE Video (Real Player file)      File size: 2.24 MB


(Click here for free download of Adobe Acrobat software)


The Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems (CCRE) program has its roots in a collaborative field research project conceived by six National Museum of Natural History scientists during the early 1970s. This initial group of Smithsonian researchers represented several major disciplines that are essential in the study of reef ecology: invertebrate and vertebrate zoology, botany, carbonate geology, and paleobiology. The immediate aim was the synoptic investigations of Caribbean coral reefs. Since it was expected that comparative studies would eventually be carried into other coastal environments, the original program was named Investigations of Marine Shallow Water Ecosystems (IMSWE). Coral Reef

Program logistics and financial constraints made it advisable to establish a field station in one representative location rather than travel as a group to different places to carry out studies. After a number of dive surveys conducted by us and colleagues from other institutions, we chose the barrier reef of Belize.

This reef complex turned out to be the most diverse in structure, habitat types, and animal and plant species of all locations examined. It could also be considered the most pristine system, with only minimal disturbances from the distant land mass, such as silting and run-off of nutrients and pollutants, and only moderate fishing activities by natives and a few tourists.

In February 1972, Carrie Bow Cay, a 0.4 hectare (1 acre) island on top of the southern Belize barrier reef was chosen as a site for our field laboratory. During the following decade, some 65 scientists and graduate students worked at the station, and more than 100 research papers were published on the fauna, flora, and geology of the Carrie Bow reef tract, culminating in the multidisciplinary volume entitled "The Atlantic Barrier Reef Ecosystems at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize, I: Structure and Communities" (K. Rützler and I.G. Macintyre, eds., 1982; Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences, 12).

Grants from the Exxon Corporation's Public Affairs Department (Central and South America) aided the program soon after its inception and, in the early 1980s, stimulated a new focus: ecological study of Caribbean mangrove swamp communities. This new program became known as the Smithsonian Western Atlantic Mangrove Program (SWAMP) and, in addition to the Exxon support, earned a 2-year Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Program award for its 18 staff scientists. Carrie Bow Cay continued to serve as logistical base, with nearby Twin Cays chosen as the model mangrove system, (see K. Rützler and I.C. Feller, 1996, Caribbean Mangrove Swamps; Scientific American, 274/3).

Beginning in 1985, the National Museum of Natural History, strengthened by the research experience derived from the IMSWE and SWAMP programs, received an increase to its budget base for the study of Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems. This "umbrella" program, now known by its acronym CCRE, encompasses reef, mangrove, seagrass meadow, and plankton community studies, and maintains its primary focus on the Carrie Bow Cay, Belize, region. To date, about 50 scientists a year have conducted studies there. In addition, comparative studies in other places in the Caribbean basin have been initiated or are planned. As of October 1998, nearly 600 research papers have been published; preliminary results and work in progress are summarized in yearly reports. 

In 2000, the CCRE program joined forces with the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama in a new initiative -- the Marine Science Network -- which has launched new efforts in solving problems of coastal and marine environments from the U.S. to Central America.

Please see our bibliography.

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Carrie Bow Cay

In 1972, a field station was established on Carrie Bow Cay, a 0.4 hectare island on the southern portion of the Belize barrier reef crest, southeast of Dangriga, Stann Creek District, at approximately 16o48'N, 88o05'W. The station is not available for rent but serves exclusively as a research base for scientists and support staff with CCRE-approved projects. It is open all year and particularly busy between January and September. Because of the small size of the island, there is no resident staff. Station managers and cooks come from the mainland 16 miles away every 4-6 weeks; scientists visit for 2-3 weeks on average. Up to six scientists can be accommodated at one time.

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Focal Research Areas

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