Foraminifera can be used to determine the source(s) of carbonate sediment and the directions of sediment transport in shallow, coastal lagoons such as Frank Sound on the south-central coast of Grand Cayman. These determinations, based on the distribution of foraminiferal assemblages and ‘tracer species’ (numerically abundant species that live in known physiographic units and/or ecological conditions), show that the lagoonal sediments are a mixture of grains that originated in the lagoon and forereef. The variable proportions of these foraminifera throughout the lagoon reflects the dynamic processes that control lagoonal sedimentation.

Amphistegina gibbosa, Discorbis rosea, and Asterigerina carinata lived in the forereef environment. The fact that these ‘tracer species’ are found throughout Frank Sound and in the beach sands, shows that they were transported across the reef crest and the lagoon. Abrasion-resistant Archaias angulatus, a‘tracer species’ indicative of a lagoonal setting, forms up to 50% of foraminiferal assemblages found in the lagoonal sediments. Preferential winnowing of small tests from these populations indicates sorting under high energy conditions. The vertical distribution of the forereef and lagoonal foraminifera in the sediment blanket that covers the floor of Frank Sound indicates that these processes are temporally persistent.

Transportation of forereef foraminifera into and around the lagoon and sorting of the lagoonal foraminifera cannot take place under ‘normal’ conditions when the tranquil lagoon is characterized by weak currents. Storms and/or hurricanes, however, generate short-lived high-energy events that can move and sort the sediment and foraminifera. At the height of a storm, water and sediment are moved over the reef and then piled and held onshore by the onshore winds and the constant flow of water over the reef and across the lagoon. These currents can mix some of the lagoonal and forereef sediments. As a storm wanes, however, the ‘piled water’ flows offshore via strong rip currents that pass into the ocean through the channels which transect the reef. These currents winnow and/or strip sediment from the lagoon and may transport lagoonal sediments into the forereef area. As a result, residual lagoonal sediment is commonly characterized by larger and abrasion-resistant foraminifera.