Until the early 1990s, information on sea turtle nesting in the Netherlands Antilles amounted to little more than a few anecdotal accounts and sea turtle nesting was considered nothing more than a rare or accidental occurrence. However, several recent studies have found significant levels of sea turtle nesting activity and have served as an important impetus to successful implementation of new conservation measures and initiatives. We pre- sent and discuss new information that documents several additional sea turtle nesting beaches for con- servation on four Caribbean islands, and that can serve as baseline data for future reference. While most studies elsewhere have focused on large sea turtle nesting beaches, our findings support the idea that small, scattered nesting beaches could cumulatively contribute significantly to both reproductive output and recovery potential of several species when examined on a regional scale.
Coral bleaching has been observed in the Windward Islands since late August 2005. Reports and observations have been received from marine parks and dive operators in Saba, St Maarten, St Eustatius, St Kitts and Nevis. Marine Parks have been vigilant to reports of bleaching following the April 2005 warning of warmer sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean due to a change in the normal upwelling patterns, which was circulated by Paul Hoetjes (Department of Environment and Nature, Ministry of Public Health and Social Development of the Netherlands Antilles). This report has combined observations from three marine parks (Saba, St Eustatius, St Maarten).
A 200-year time series of incubation temperatures and primary sex ratios for green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles nesting in St. Eustatius (North East Caribbean)was created by combining sand temperature measurementswith historical and current environmental data and climate projections. Rainfall and spring tides were important because they cooled the sand and lowered incubation temperatures. Mean annual sand temperatures are currently 31.0 °C (SD = 1.6) at the nesting beach but show seasonality, with lower temperatures (29.1–29.6 °C) during January–March and warmer temperatures (31.9–33.3 °C) in June–August. Results suggest that all three species have had female-biased hatchling production for the past decades with less than 15.5%, 36.0%, and 23.7% males produced every year for greens, hawksbills and leatherbacks respectively since the late nineteenth century. Global warming will exacerbate this female-skew. For example, projections indicate that only 2.4% of green turtle hatchlings will be males by 2030, 1.0% by 2060, and 0.4% by 2090. On the other hand, future changes to nesting phenology have the potential to mitigate the extent of feminisation. In the absence of such phenological changes, management strategies to artificially lower incubation temperatures by shading nests or relocating nest clutches to deeper depths may be the only way to prevent the localised extinction of these turtle populations.
Satellite transmitters were deployed on three green turtles, Chelonia mydas, and two hawksbill turtles, Eretmochelys imbricata, nesting in the Lesser Antilles islands, Caribbean, between 2005 and 2007 to obtain pre- liminary information about the inter-nesting, migratory and foraging habitats in the region. Despite the extremely small dataset, both year-round residents and migrants were iden- tified; specifically, (1) two green turtles used local shallow coastal sites within 50 km of the nesting beach during all of their inter-nesting periods and then settled at these sites on completion of their breeding seasons, (2) one hawksbill turtle travelled 200 km westward before reversing direction and settling within 50 km of the original nesting beach and (3) one green and one hawksbill turtle initially nested at the proximate site, before permanently relocating to an alter- native nesting site over 190 km distant. A lack of nesting beach fidelity was supported by flipper tag datasets for the region. Tagging datasets from 2002 to 2012 supported that some green and hawksbill individuals exhibit low fidelity to nesting beaches, whereas other females exhibited a high degree of fidelity (26 turtles tagged, 40.0 km maximum distance recorded from original nesting beach). Individual turtles nesting on St Eustatius and St Maarten appear to exhibit behavioural plasticity in their inter-nesting behav- iour and post-nesting migration routes in the eastern Carib- bean. The tracking and tagging data combined indicate that some of the green and hawksbill females that nest in the Lesser Antilles islands are year-round residents, whilst oth- ers may nest and forage at alternative sites. Thus, continued year-round protection of these islands and implementation of protection programmes in nearby islands could contrib- ute towards safeguarding the green and hawksbill popula- tions of the region.
At least 33 native species of marine mammals have been documented from the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR). For many of these species, the waters of the region serve as primary habitat for critical activities that include feeding, mating and calving. However, relatively little remains known about their biology, life history, distribution and behavior, particularly also around the windward Dutch islands (Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten). In this study we compiled 84 marine mammal records for the waters of these islands, comprising 9 previously published records and 75 new records. A total of eight distinct species are documented, six of which are cetaceans. In comparison to the leeward Dutch islands (Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire), documented strandings are few. Results suggest that whereas beaked whales and Bryde’s whale are more common around the leeward Dutch islands, humpback whales are more common around the windward Dutch islands. This study concludes that more dedicated efforts are needed to better document and understand cetacean composition, seasonality and use of the both the windward and leeward Dutch Caribbean maritime territories. Such initiatives should help further clarify any potential regional differences as well the underlying causes thereof. Several nations, including the USA, the Dominican Republic and France, have established marine mammal sanctuaries in their Caribbean waters. Declaring the Dutch EEZ as a marine mammal sanctuary would be a valuable contribution to the conservation of marine mammals in the region.
Records of whale sharks in the Caribbean are relatively sparse. Here we document 24 records of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus Smith 1882) for the Dutch Caribbean, four for the windward islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, and twenty for the southern Caribbean leeward islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire. The results suggest a higher abundance of whale sharks in the southern, leeward part of the Dutch Caribbean, likely associated with seasonal upwelling-driven productivity known for the southeastern Caribbean area. A bimodal seasonal pattern as documented for Venezuela was not as pronounced in our findings for the Leeward Dutch Caribbean and whale sharks were recorded in 9 months of the year. In the Windward Dutch Caribbean all (4) records so far were for the winter months of December-February. Most records involved large and solitary animals in contrast to areas elsewhere suspected of being nursery habitat. According to local sources, whale sharks were most often associated with feeding tunas and sea surface swarms of crab megalopae.
Organisations designed to manage and maintain Protected Areas are often faced with limited financial resources to maintain and monitor protected areas to their fullest potential. Methods, such as “Willingness To Pay studies” (WTP) are used to assess the park visitors’ views and opinions towards fee systems and the potential of paying more in order to sustain an organisation’s role in nature management and conservation of national park resources.
The St Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA) is the non-governmental organisation with legal mandate from the Island Government of St Eustatius for management of the two protected areas on St Eustatius: the St Eustatius Marine Park (established 1996) and the Quill/Boven National Park (established 1997). There has been little change in the visitor fee structure since their introduction (Marine Park diving and yacht fees in 1998 and National Park hiker fees in 2001). Due to the dated fee structure, and the fact that income from fees has not yet covered park operation costs, STENAPA discussed a change in fees with the Executive Council of the Island Government in June 2006 and subsequently carried out a Willingness to Pay study in late 2006 using an Economic Tourism Survey. This survey was designed to ascertain the views and opinions about fees by tourists visiting National Parks in St Eustatius. The objective of the study was to find out whether tourists would be willing or not to pay a higher user fee in order to sustain the National Park system’s marine/terrestrial conservation objectives.
A total of 100 divers, 1 yacht and 50 hikers were surveyed during a four month period (10 August until 7 December 2006). The results from the surveys received from divers demonstrated that a clear majority (72%) are willing to pay more for the entry fee to dive in St Eustatius Marine Park. Most of the hikers surveyed (70%) were willing to pay more for the Quill/Boven National Park entrance fee; 26% were not willing to pay higher than the current price and 4% did not respond to the question. Insufficient yachters (1 yacht only) responded to the survey to allow this park user to be included in the analysis of results from the survey. A majority of park visitors would prefer a Multi-Pass system.
As a result, this Study proposes that fees should be increased for diving and hiking park users in St. Eustatius.
The WTP survey identified a problem with visitor awareness of park fees. The questionnaire interviews indicated that confusion over the existence and price of park tags was common amongst both hikers and divers. In particular, divers were not well informed about the existence and price of diving entry fees. This is related to the fact that divers pay for fees through the dive centres. It is hoped that existing plans to display new signage with information about park passes at the airport, park visitor centre and Quill National Park trail head will address this confusion. It is acknowledged that additional signage and brochures at dive centres and hotels is probably needed to fully address the problem, and ensure that park users are aware that they are paying a fee towards the national or marine park and know how much they have paid.
St Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA) is the only environmental non-governmental organization on St Eustatius. In 1996, the Island Government gave legal mandate to STENAPA to manage a new marine park.
The Marine Park maintains dive and yacht moorings and conducts many programs such as the Snorkel Club, the Junior Ranger club, surveys of marine life, school educational activities and since 2002, the conservation of sea turtles on St Eustatius.
Until present, three species of marine turtles are nesting on the St Eustatius beaches: the Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).
STENAPA’s second annual turtle monitoring program started on April 17, 2003. In June 2003, Nicole Esteban (STENAPA Manager) was appointed country coordinator for WIDECAST to replace the previous manager.
STENAPA has four permanent staff and is able to undertake projects such as the sea turtle conservation thanks to two international volunteer programs that started in 2001 and 2003.
Methodology for the 2003 programme included:
- Volunteers participating in the programme receive a theoretical and practical training on the sea turtle monitoring programme.
- When a sea turtle is observed nesting on Zeelandia Beach, the turtle width and length is measured, location of the nest is recorded and measured and the turtle is tagged by trained personnel who are in charge of nightly patrols.
- STENAPA conducted video interviews of two elderly Statians in June 2003, to document historical information about the number and species of turtles. Information is now known about turtle nesting and hunting as early as the 1920’s.
- Hatchling emergence from the nest is monitored and nests are inventoried.
- In 2003, staff used GPS mapping to monitor beach erosion, sand movement and to identify nest location of sea turtles.
- In 2003, STENAPA arranged a series of beach clean ups, schools and businesses presentations.
Results for the 2002 and 2003 Sea Turtle Monitoring Programme are as follows:
- A minimum of 3 Greens and 1 Hawksbill nested in 2002.
- A minimum of between 3-10 Leatherbacks, 2-3 Greens, 2-5 Hawksbills came and nested in 2003.
- In 2003, two measurements on two Hawksbill turtles were taken, and in 2002 two measurements on two Green turtles were collected.
- In 2003 one Hawksbill was tagged twice on the front right and the front left flipper. In 2002, three Greens were tagged on the front flippers.
- A total number of 41 hatchlings were rescued in 2003.
Recommendations for the 2004 programme include:
- Increased supervision of Working Abroad night crew members: either the Sea Turtle Programme Coordinator or Marine Park Interns (Marine Biologists) will be in charge of night patrols.
- Purchase of additional equipment to facilitate night patrols.
- Training of staff at international meetings.
- Monitoring of sunset emergence as soon as a dedicated truck for the turtle programme can be purchased.
- Beach mapping to be conducted regularly to monitor changes and map turtles.
- Continuation with the community education programme at schools and local businesses.
It is expected that, with a full time programme coordinator, improved monitoring and increased number of volunteers, there will be increased numbers of turtles monitored in 2004.
St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA) is the only active environmental non-government organization on St. Eustatius, and was legislated in 1996 with a mandate from the Island Government to protect and manage the island’s marine resources. St. Eustatius Marine Park was established in 1996 and became actively managed in 1997 to conserve and protect the marine environment surrounding the island from the high water line up to and including the 30 meter (100 feet) depth contour. The marine environment of St. Eustatius supports 27.5 km2 of biologically diverse coral reef, seagrass, sandy seabed and open ocean communities. The Marine Park is one of the top 5 sites in the Caribbean to see healthy coral and fish populations. The 2 reserves have 43% hard coral cover and the Protected Area is a home, migratory stop over or breeding site for 14 IUCN Red List species, 10 CITES Appendix I species and 98 Appendix II species.
St Eustatius Marine Park attracts around 500 yacht visitors and 2500 diving/snorkeling visitors per year contributing to income for the 70% of the islands population employed in restaurants, hotels and other services1. Other uses of St Eustatius Marine Park are for Fisheries (25 fishermen use the waters of St Eustatius) and in excess of 1000 tankers a year using the oil storage facility at Statia Terminals NV. Anchoring is the main threat to the marine resources caused by the operations of Statia Terminals NV, although pollution is also an important issue with sewage and other wastes including ballast waters entering St Eustatius Marine Park waters from vessels.
Field work carried out involving survey dives, stakeholder consultation and photographic records found that significant damage has been done to the reefs within and beyond the designated anchoring zones for the vessels using Statia Terminals NV. The main impacts of the damage are:
- Broken individual coral colonies
- Structural damage to the reefs
- Decreased fisheries production for subsistence, commercial and sport fishing.
- Decrease in dive tourism, and related activities.
- Change in community structure
- Ciguatoxic (poisonous) fish
- Decreased recruitment and coral larvae survivorship
Recommendations to manage the anchoring issues are:
- Install a Vessel Monitoring System with alerts to unsustainable practices.
- Monitor the current status, ongoing damage and recovery of the coral reefs
- Establish a protocol for response and restoration after damage has occurred.
St. Eustatius Marine Park was established in 1996 and became actively managed in 1997 to conserve and protect the marine environment. It consists of a general use area and two no-take reserves. The purpose of this study is to collect baseline data regarding fish stock populations within the marine park and its reserves in order to evaluate the success or otherwise of the environmental management strategies of the Marine Park. Questionnaires and semi-structured interviews were conducted with eleven fishermen on the island in order to learn more about the St. Eustatius fisheries and to examine changes that have taken place within the last ten years. A visual fish census of the coral reefs was also carried out at sixteen dive sites. The abundance and diversity of fish species were observed, along with length estimations in order to determine the standing stock and population size structure of specific species. The Southern Reserve of the Marine Park was observed as having the most abundant fish population and on average, between twenty and thirty species were observed at each of the dive sites surveyed. Blair’s Reef was identified as being the most diverse with over thirty-five species being observed. The diversity of the fish population in St. Eustatius has been proven to have increased dramatically in the last thirteen years, with the number of species currently present in the waters being on average 4.9 times greater than the number observed in 1992 at the same locations. When asked about the changes in the coral reefs and the fish populations over the past ten years, half of the fishermen said they saw no changes, while the other half said they had seen positive changes, citing more fish and less anchor damage. This clearly indicates that the establishment of the Marine Park nine years ago has been beneficial to the fish population within the local waters.