Mijts, E.

UAUCU Student Research Exchange Collected Papers 2019

This volume presents academic papers and personal reflections written by the participants of the UAUCU student research exchange project 2019. These texts reflect the diversity of academic disciplines and approaches, as well as the diversity in cultural background, of this year’s participants. The program, which offers students from the University of Aruba (UA) and University College Utrecht (UCU) the opportunity to conduct research in a multidisciplinary international student team, has already proven a successful formula: work presented in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 volumes led to international publications, and thesis awards for several program alumni. We anticipate similar achievements for contributors to the 2019 edition.

The academic works included here treat topics like identity, culture, social and mental wellbeing, the social crisis plan, economics, and environmental conservation. The nature of the research is equally far-ranging, including pilot projects, theoretical explorations verified with respondent data, in-depth environmental studies, and sociocultural studies that explore fundamental issues confronting society. The diverse papers are linked by a common interest in sustainable societies, reflecting a strong sense of community awareness, and providing research findings that have meaning for Aruban society. The papers further demonstrate how the student researchers’ collaboration in a multidisciplinary team has influenced their approach to their work. The papers here are products of peer-to-peer learning: the student authors provided each other with feedback on content, method, style, language, and structure. In general, the papers appear as submitted by the authors -- including perhaps the odd raw opinion or hasty generalization. Some of the student-researchers are still working on the interpretation and presentation of their findings, and will later finalize project papers, or bachelor or master theses, based on the results of fieldwork presented.

The contents of this volume:

  • Of People and Mangroves: illustrations of a social-ecological system.
  • Off-road driving and the ecosystem: An analysis of the impacts on landscape functionality.
  • Is it for me or the money? Local Inclusion in Tourism Development in Aruba.
  • Mapping the Health Services Responses to Child Maltreatment: The Aruban Case.
  • Social Crisis Plan Aruba 2018-2020: Stimulating and Hindering Factors.
  • Once a Thief, Always a Thief? Factors Helping or Hindering the Reintegration of Ex-Prisoners on Aruba.
  • Early detection of visual disorders in children in Aruba and assurance of timely care and services: The approach of the MDT-VOV.
  • From dependent student to independent pupil: the developmental impact of the Academic Foundation Year on Aruban students.
  • Sharing stories bou palo: the making of heritage in a Caribbean oil town.
  • The import costs of fruits and vegetables on Aruba: mitigating the volatility of prices to ensure sustainable supply.
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Research report
Research and monitoring
Report number
5th Edition of the UAUCU Student Research Exchange
Geographic location

Population Structure and Connectivity of Reef-building Corals in the Southern Dutch Caribbean

A new study will examine the genetic connectivity of corals located around the ABC islands. The goal is to find a link between the spatial arrangement of hard coral species to connectivity and population structure between the islands. Understanding these relationships will help expand our knowledge of coral reproduction and island interconnectivity to guide coastal zone management in the future.

Coral reefs are among the most diverse and productive communities in the marine environment. Particularly in the tropics, they are an iconic ecosystem since they are hotspots for biodiversity, attract major tourism, provide employment for many locals and represent the complex nature of the marine environment. Hermatypic corals, also known as reef-building corals, are the basic building blocks of tropical coral reefs. The growth of these reef-building corals and the distribution of coral reefs are strongly influenced by the physical environment. 

Coral Reef Reproduction

Hermatypic corals can reproduce asexually, where they produce genetically identical clones of themselves, leading to the production of massive skeletons that collectively form the limestone framework of tropical reefs. 

Corals also reproduce sexually, whereby they create genetically new individuals from the combination of male and female gametes (eggs and sperm) produced by different parental colonies. New genotypes and slight variations over many generations can lead to adaptations to resist the susceptibility of corals to stressors such as disease, increased temperatures and pollution. 

There are two ways corals can sexual reproduce: “broadcast spawners” and “brooders”. Broadcast spawners release eggs and sperm into the water column and the fertilization and larval development occur in the water column. Other species of corals are brooders, which undergo internal fertilization and release their offspring as larvae. 

Factors such as mode of sexual reproduction of coral species (whether they are “brooders” ( or “broadcast spawners”), currents and coastal zone habitat influence the distance, direction and extent of coral larvae (planulae) dispersal as well as their eventual success of coral larvae to settle to the ocean floor and grow into adult corals (recruitment). The successful reproduction, connectivity (or the exchange of planulae between reefs) and recruitment of planulae is fundamental to coral reef health and development and this is directly linked to the abundance and fitness of other marine organisms that depend on them for their survival. The magnitude of environmental change that is occurring within the Caribbean region as well as globally is considerable, and solutions will require investigating how populations of corals are connected as well as understanding how the interaction between genotype (organism's set of heritable genes) and environment (seascape) and external stressors impact coral larvae dispersal.

Scientific Investigation

Therefore, the goal of this research project is to link the spatial arrangement of hermatypic coral species to connectivity and population structure between the islands that make up the southern Dutch Caribbean (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). This study will also compare the extent of planular dispersal between reproductive modes of corals using the brooding mustard hill coral (P. astreoides) and the symmetrical and broadcast spawning grooved brain corals (P. strigosa and D. labyrinthiformis) as the study species. 

To trace the movement and connectivity of these microscopic coral planulae across the vast southern Caribbean Sea the researchers will primarily use genetic approaches and analyses. Molecular tools such as microsatellite markers will be used to identify and examine the genotypes of the corals of study and allow us to thereby establish distinct relationships among coral individuals and the distance that separates them. 

This study is part of Sustainable Island Solutions through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (SISSTEM) project at the Universiteit van Aruba. Diana Melville, PhD Candidate of the KU Leuven and University of Aruba, is the lead scientist supervised by drs. Eric Mijts, University of Aruba and Prof. Filip Volckaert, Laboratory of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Genomics, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.

Looking for Answers

Questions that arise are: Are corals on the ABC islands genetically related to each other? Which populations are the main source of progeny? What is the role of environmental factors and biological traits in shaping connectivity? Are coral populations adapted to the shifting environment? 

The ABC Islands

The three islands, relatively close together, offer an excellent research setting to compare and contrast factors related to dispersal through shared hydrodynamic, ecological and anthropogenic influences. Each island has taken a specific conservation approach with different impacts on the coastal ecosystem. All share a thriving coast-associated tourism, rely on fishing and the other biological services that coral reefs may offer. However, the quality of these services depends on the health of the coral reefs. To date, there hasn’t been any study on the genetic connectivity of coral reefs in the region. The findings of this study will provide a sound scientific basis for coastal zone management of the region which is considered ecologically and economic important. Therefore, in this PhD project there will be unique opportunities to explore and disclose the limits of connectivity in the ABC region.

Article published in BioNews 37

Data type
Research and monitoring
Geographic location

Beach Debris on Aruba

A large-scale study of beach debris on Aruba has shown just how much marine debris pollution there is on the island’s beaches. The study also locates the different sources of this debris, emphasizing the need for both local and global action. 


This news article was published in BioNews 24.

BioNews is produced by the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

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