The potential Outstanding Universal Value and natural heritage values of Bonaire National Marine Park: an ecological perspective
The Southern Caribbean forms a separate biogeographic province for marine mollusks and marine fish faunas. The terrestrial desert and xeric shrublands and Venezuelan mangrove ecosystems are not yet represented on the World Heritage List or on any national Tentative List. In addition BNMP is located in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot and two Ramsar sites which are also recognized as Key Biodiversity Areas (Important Bird Areas) are found in the boundaries of BNMP. Any terrestrial extension of the proposed nomination could add additional IBAs and include vegetation ecoregions not represented.
However, there are a large number of natural World Heritage Sites with marine values and the combination of mangrove, seagrass and coral, and even saliñas or hypersalinity, is found in several other marine World Heritage Sites. The comparison analysis highlighted the importance of BNMP to make itself distinctive for criteria vii. For criteria ix the difficulty in finding specific information on parrotfish or herbivore biomass, carbonate production or coral reef growth, % hard coral cover and % algal cover suggests that the chosen attributes will fill a gap in ecological processes.
We identify three action points by which to further increase the Bonaire Marine Park nomination prospects as a World Heritage site: a terrestrial extension, a 12 miles zone extension and a transboundary extension. While the last option is expected to increase prospects most, the first and second option are more feasible to establish. Both of them would increase the integrity of Bonaire Marine Park. A terrestrial extension would include xeric shrubland which is not yet represented in any World Heritage site. The 12 miles zone extension would include endangered species, which demonstrates the global importance, as well as new species, which uniqueness still needs to be demonstrated and requires further research.
This report describes the potential Outstanding Universal Value of the Bonaire National Marine Park from an ecological perspective, that is, according to World Heritage natural criteria vii and ix as defined by the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO, 2013).
The Bonaire National Marine Park is an outstanding example of a fringing coral reef that has evolved to one of the most diverse reef in the Caribbean.
The Bonaire Marine Park, protected since 1979 and declared a National Park in 1999, includes one of the healthiest coral reef in the Caribbean and two Ramsar sites which include mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, globally important for 4 species of endangered species of marine turtles and at least 29 species of migratory waterbirds and a nursery habitat for many reef fish species. The coral reef is characterized by one of the highest cover of living corals in the Caribbean, large schools of grazing fish for biological control of macroalgae and the reef has an important function as a source of larvae for tropical ecosystems downstream.
The seascape of Bonaire Marine Park offers spectacular seaviews of crystal clear water in different shades of blue, contrasted by green coastal vegetation, white sandy beaches, hypersaline saliñas in different shades of pink in the south and steep limestone cliffs in the north. The high visibility of the crystal clear water and colourful underwater scenery offer spectacular and diverse views of large Montastrea coral mounds in the north, a unique double reef parallel to the fringing reef in the south and waving gorgonian fields on the exposed east coast reef. The fringing reef supports large schools of reef fish and over 500 species, including globally threatened species of sharks and rays and a resident population of impressive tarpons.
The proposed property encompasses all the biophysical and ecological processes that characterise a natural and sustainable ecosystem: the highest carbonate production rate in the Caribbean, large coral colonies and high parrotfish grazing rate. These components of a resilient reef, combined with the location of Bonaire outside of the Caribbean hurricane belt, result in the highest hard coral cover and one of the lowest macro algae cover in the Caribbean.
Well established standards of protection, management and monitoring ensure that the coral reef and associated mangrove and seagrass ecosystems of the Bonaire Marine Park will continue to evolve naturally and to support human uses for the foreseeable future in a sustainable way for generations to come. Bonaire is a volcanic oceanic island with steep reef slopes and lies is a small but unique southern Caribbean arid zone outside the principal hurricane belt. This means that the reefs are relatively little- stressed by sediment, freshwater and hurricane disturbance. The island is structurally fortuitous with conditions essential for the long-term support of healthy coral reefs. As reefs in the region continue to rapidly decline, the arid southern Caribbean represents the last best hope for regional coral reefs and the relative importance of Bonaire’s reefs will continue to increase in the future due to their exceptional resilience. The Bonaire Marine Park is the oldest established marine park in the Caribbean and includes two no-use marine reserves and two no-take fish reserves. Fishing on the ecological important parrotfish is traditionally low on Bonaire and has been banned completely in the entire marine park since 2010.
The global comparative analysis identified opportunities to build the case for BNMP as a distinct and important area potentially worthy of international recognition. The comparisons did not clearly highlight how BNMP is irreplaceable, however the findings do suggest that it is representative of a healthy Caribbean coral reef ecosystem. BNMP fills a gap in the marine biogeography as there is no World Heritage Site in the Southern Caribbean.