Habitat diversity and biodiversity of the benthic seascapes of St. Eustatius
Quantitative habitat mapping and description form the basis for understanding the provisioning of ecosystem services and habitat connectivity, and hence provide an essential underpinning for marine spatial planning, management and conservation. Based on 869 video stations in a 150 x 200 m grid, we mapped 25.3 km2 of the near-shore island shelf of St. Eustatius at depths ranging 5-30 m. This yielded a coarse-grained map of the principal habitat classes of St. Eustatius’ seascapes. A total of nine principal seafloor habitats were distinguished. Gorgonian reefs amounted to 22% of the Statia Marine Park habitats sampled and were concentrated in the shallow wave-exposed eastern parts of the island (7.7 m average depths). The densest coral “scapes” and seagrass beds of St. Eustatius were concentrated at depths of about 24 m and only amounted to 4 and 5 percent resp. of the island shelf habitats studied. Whereas coral areas were essentially limited to the southern and south-western island shelf areas, seagrass beds were confined to the northern island shelf area. Including patch reef habitats, total hard coral-scape habitat for the St. Eustatius Marine Park amounted to about 19% of the area surveyed and about 475 ha of habitat. Sargassum reef habitat typically occurred at the seaward edge of communities dominated by hard coral growth.