Caribbean coral reefs have been declining for decades due to a combination of anthropogenic drivers such as unsustainable fishing practises, pollution, erosion and coastal development and natural phenomena like hurricanes. The degradation of coral reefs is characterised by, among others, a decline in coral cover, three dimensional structure, sharks, large groupers and snapper, herbivorous fish and invertebrates and an increase in macroalgal cover. In the past 40 years throughout the Caribbean large-scale shifts have occurred from coral dominated to macroalgal dominated reef communities.
Healthy coral reef ecosystems and sustainable fisheries are of utmost importance for the small island economies of Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius. St. Eustatius (21 km2) is located in the north-eastern Caribbean and is surrounded by the 2700 ha St Eustatius National Marine Park (SNMP) which was established in 1996. From 1996 the SNMP included two marine reserves, the Northern Reserve (163 ha; rezoned in 2015 as harbour area) and the Southern Reserve (364 ha), in which no fishing or anchoring is allowed. In this report we document the 2015 status of a range of indicators for the health of St Eustatius coral reef ecosystem and its fisheries. Where possible the current status and trends of the indicators are discussed in a historical and wider geographical (Caribbean) perspective.
Status coral reef: Coral cover declined to a historic low. Dominance of macroalgae is established.The grouper species composition is characteristic for highly fished areas with little management.The status of key herbivorous fish (parrotfish and surgeonfish) biomass is reasonable at best.Using the most conservative survey results (precautionary approach), the overall Reef Health Index scored the reefs St Eustatius as “poor” in 2015
Status fishery: The capacity of the coastal fishery has remained roughly the same over the past 15 years, and possibly even since 1908