Caribbean coral reefs are in decline and the deployment of artificial reefs, structures on the sea bottom that mimic one or more characteristics of a natural reef, is increasingly often considered to sustain ecosystem services. Independent of their specific purposes, it is essential that artificial reefs do not negatively affect the already stressed surrounding habitat. To evaluate the ecological effects of artificial reefs in the Caribbean, an analysis was performed on 212 artificial reefs that were deployed in the Greater Caribbean between 1960 and 2018, based on cases documented in grey (n = 158) and scientific (n = 54) literature. Depending on the availability of data, reef type and purpose were linked to ecological effects and fisheries management practices around the artificial reefs. The three most common purposes to deploy artificial reefs were to create new dive sites (41%), to perform research (22%) and to support ecosystem restoration (18%), mainly by stimulating diversity. Ship wrecks (44%), reef balls© (13%) and piles of concrete construction blocks (11%) were the most-often deployed artificial reef structures and metal and concrete were the most-used materials. The ecological development on artificial reefs in the Caribbean appeared to be severely understudied. Research and monitoring has mostly been done on small experimental reefs that had been specifically designed for science, whereas the most commonly deployed artificial reef types have hardly been evaluated. Studies that systematically compare the ecological functioning of different artificial reef types are virtually non-existent in the Caribbean and should be a research priority, including the efficacy of new designs and materials. Comparisons with natural reef ecosystems are scarce. Artificial reefs can harbor high fish densities and species richness, but both fish and benthos assemblages often remain distinct from natural ecosystems. Studies from other parts of the world show that artificial reefs can influence the surrounding ecosystem by introducing non-indigenous species and by leaking iron. As artificial reefs attract part of their marine organisms from surrounding habitats, intensive exploitation by fishers, without clear management, can adversely affect the fish stocks in the surrounding area and thus counteract any potential ecosystem benefits. This study shows that over 80% of artificial reefs in the Caribbean remain accessible to fishers and are a risk to the surrounding habitat. To ensure artificial reefs and their fisheries do not negatively affect the surrounding ecosystem, it is imperative to include artificial reefs, their fisheries and the surrounding ecosystem in monitoring programs and management plans and to create no-take zones around artificial reefs that are not monitored.
- Fish abundance and biomass differed per artificial reef type.
- This difference is driven by the availability of small shelters.
- Artificial reef deployment can be more efficient by choosing better performing or cheaper designs.
In this study, we compared the early fish colonization of three types of artificial reefs deployed in the coastal waters of Saba and St Eustatius in the Caribbean: reef balls®, layered cakes and piles of locally obtained basaltic rock. As an indicator of performance, three fish assemblage parameters (abundance, biomass, species richness) were measured using underwater visual censuses at 11 months post-deployment and 4 months after restoration from hurricane damage. All artificial reef plots showed higher values for fish abundance, biomass and species richness than control plots covered by bare sand, which shows that artificial reefs can locally enhance the fish assemblage. However, the effect differed among artificial reef plots. Fish abundance was 3.8 times higher on the layered cake plots compared to the reef ball plots, while fish biomass was 4.6 times higher. Rock pile plots had intermediate values. Species richness did not differ significantly among different artificial reef plots. Three-dimensional modelling revealed that layered cakes had a smaller gross volume, shelter volume and total surface area than reef balls. The availability of multiple small shelters in the layered cake design appeared to be more relevant than other physical parameters, as the layered cake plots had higher fish abundance than the reef balls plots. We concluded that on Saba and St. Eustatius, layered cake plots performed better than reef ball plots after one year of colonization. Rock pile plots, made of local volcanic rock, showed an intermediate performance, and were 4–10 times cheaper to construct. If observed differences are consistent with other locations and persist during further colonization, current efforts to deploy reef balls could better be allocated to deploy artificial reef structures with a higher shelter density.
Reef ball® , Layered cake, Fish abundance, Shelter availability, Habitat restoration, Artificial reef
Coral reefs are one of the most important ecosystems in the world, in terms of both biological diversity and economy. These ecosystems are under a great amount of threats (e.g. climate change, pollution, coastal development and overfishing), which can lead to reef degradation and decrease of three-dimensional structure. In the worst-case scenario this can result in coral-algal phase shifts, this is in particular occurring when herbivorous fish are over exploited. The aim of this study was to investigate possible relations between herbivorous fish groups (Acanthuridae and Scaridae), coral recruitment and growth rates, on three different types artificial reefs on Saba and St. Eustatius.
For more information contact Alwin Hylkema: firstname.lastname@example.org
The new RAAK PRO Diadema project aims to restore long spined sea urchin populations (scientific name Diadema antillarum) on the coral reefs around Saba and St. Eustatius. Long spined sea urchins were the most important herbivores on Caribbean coral reefs. In 1983, more than 95% of the sea urchins died, due to an unknown disease. Without the grazing of the sea urchins, the algae increased in abundance, smothering adult corals and inhibiting the settlement of juvenile corals. As a result, the reef became covered with algae instead of corals. Nowadays, more than 35 years after the die-off, long spined sea urchins are still very rare. They are sometimes abundant in shallow waters, such as harbors, but are seldom seen on the deeper coral reef.
Worldwide coral reefs face many threats that are difficult to tackle locally, like global warming and ocean acidification. This makes it even more urgent to remove as much local threats as possible. Restoring the sea-urchin populations will remove the overgrowing algae and will make the reefs more resilient to the other threats they face. To do this, University of Applied Sciences Van Hall Larenstein, STENAPA, Saba Conservation Foundation, Wageningen Marine Research, Wageningen University, Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute, University of Applied Sciences HZ, ISER Caribe, Wortel Product Design and Golden Rock Dive Center work together in the new RAAK PRO Diadema project. The project is partly funded by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and will run for four years, starting this September.
The first priority of the team will be to investigate why sea urchin populations on most reefs have not recovered. Pilot experiments show a high abundance of very small juvenile sea urchins, while no adults were observed on these reefs. This is an indication that there is potential for population recovery and research will therefore focus on the first steps in the sea urchins life cycle. The ultimate goal is to develop a new method to maximize settlement and survival of larvae and juveniles and, by doing this, restore the populations of this important herbivore. The sea urchins will, once more, graze away the algae and aid in the recovery of Sabas and Statias coral reefs.
In November 2016 10 students and 2 lecturers from Van Hall Larenstein, University of Applied Sciences exchanged Leeuwarden for a 2-week fieldtrip to St. Eustatius. The fieldtrip was organised in the context of their Sustainable Island Management course (also ‘’minor’’).
This news article was published in BioNews 2-2017.
BioNews is produced by the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
The importance of mangrove and seagrass lagoonal habitats as nursery areas for many reef-associated fish species is well established in the scientific literature. However, few studies have examined the relative use by nursery species of different sub-habitats within such systems. Here, we investigated fish community structure of a variety of interconnected sub-habitats of the tropical lagoon of Lac Bay in Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean. Visual census was used to test the degree to which these sub-habitats may differ in their use by fishes of different species and life stages. We quantitatively sampled the fish species abundance, composition, and size structures at a total of 162 sites distributed among nine different sub-habitats that are common to mangrove and seagrass ecosystems. Fish community variables differed consistently among sub-habitats and were mainly influenced by the presence of mangrove root structure or seagrass cover. Mangrove fringe sub-habitats were a premier habitat since multiple life stages of a variety of species showed highest densities and biomass there. Several reef fish species had a distribution pattern suggesting a unique stepwise post-settlement life cycle migration in which larger juveniles and/or subadults appear to move from the open bay environment (seagrass beds or bay mangrove fringe) to the interior mangrove fringes along mangrove pools before later departing to the adult habitat of the coral reef. In the case of the well-lit and well-circulated central bay sub-habitat, the limiting factor to fish abundance and diversity appeared to be the paucity of three-dimensional shelter due to the lack of Thalassia seagrass beds. In the warm and hypersaline backwaters, physiological tolerance limits were likely a key limiting factor. Long-term changes driven by mangrove expansion into this non-estuarine lagoon have been steadily reducing the net coverage of clear bay waters, while the surface of shallow, muddy, and hypersaline backwaters, unusable by key nursery reef fish species, has been increasing by an almost equal amount. Our study shows how fish density varies along the full gradient of sub-habitats found across a tropical bay to provide insight into the potential consequences for nursery habitat function when the availability and quality of these sub-habitats change in response to the long-term dynamic processes of mangrove land reclamation and climate change.
Baseline data on anthropogenic seafloor debris contamination in the year 2000 is provided for 24 submersible video transects at depths of 80-900 m, off the Dutch ABC-islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao), in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. In total, 202 objects were documented from a combined 21,184 m of transect, ranging from sandy lower island-slope to rocky upper island-slope habitat. Debris densities differed significantly with depth. Highest debris accumulation (0.459 items 100 m(-2) or 4590 items per km(2)) occurred at depths of 300-600 m on more shallow-sloping (20-30°) sand and silt bottoms. The overall average debris density was 0.27 objects per 100 m(2) (or 2700 items per km(2)), which is an order of magnitude higher than most other deepwater debris studies. What we describe may be representative for other small, populated, steep volcanic Caribbean islands. Food and beverage-related items were the single largest usage category identified (44% of objects; mostly glass beverage bottles).
The main conclusion of this study is that the shallow, warm and saline back-water habitat which is continuing to increase in importance within Lac Bay is unable to support meaningful mangroves, seagrass or algal meadows, nor the key nursery species. As the natural process of land reclamation by mangroves carries on, the bay’s important nursery habitats will come under additional salinity stress and likely continue to decrease in coverage and quality at an accelerated rate.
Distribution of sea grass and algal beds in Lac Bay
- The valuable seagrass and mangrove habitats of Lac are currently trapped in an enclosed bay.
- High light-intensity and well-circulated shallow habitats that fringed the mangroves of the central bay have the richest assemblages with the highest biotic coverage.
- Isolated mangrove pools have the lowest total cover, species richness and biodiversity of all habitats.
- Biotic diversity and cover decrease towards the deeper parts of the bay.
- There is an alarmingly rapid invasion of the bay by the invasive seagrass H. stipulacea.
Fish species utilization of contrasting habitats in Lac Bay
- Fish community variables differ consistently among habitats and are influenced by the percent cover of seagrass vegetation or presence of mangrove-root structure.
- Mangrove fringe habitats are a premier habitat since multiple life stages of a variety of species showed highest densities there. Mangrove fringing open waters had highest overall fish densities and species diversity.
- The various vegetated sub-habitats all play a unique role for different size-classes of different fish species.
- Management action is needed to stem further erosion of nursery habitat quality and ensure that a tipping-point is not reached beyond which recovery may be difficult or impossible.
- Measures should be taken to help restore water depth and circulation to relieve the bay’s ecosystem of thermal and salinity stress caused by the shallow backwaters. This includes excavating accumulated erosional and biogenic sediments as well as dredging to restore former feeder channels by removal of mangrove overgrowth (as already started by Stinapa).
- Further studies to assess the impacts of the invasive seagrass H. stipulacea on the bay’s flora and fauna.