The Marine Algal Vegetation of St. Martin, St. Eustatius and Saba

Although algology deals with a large group of plants, widespread and of great morphological diversity, the history of this branch of botany is fairly young. Linnaeus (1753) listed in his Species Plantarum under the heading “Cryptogamia — Algae” only five genera of plants are still accepted as algae at the present time. Under the same heading, he also described a number of liverworts, lichens and sponges, and a few other things.

During the last few decades, however, algological knowledge has increased to such an extent that it must be considered impossible to cover the whole field of phycology in one general work. Fortunately, from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we have many local algal floras, a survey of which has been published by Taylor (1959b).

The history of algology, especially for the West Indies, has been treated at length by Taylor (1960) in his large and comprehensive work Marine algae of the eastern tropical and subtropical coasts of the Americas. After a stay at the Dry Tortugas Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington during the summer months of 1926—1928, Taylor published many articles and papers on marine algae from most parts of the Caribbean. Nevertheless, only a few places have been thoroughly investigated. 

The richest development of algae is found in the sublittoral region. Mostly in its uppermost part remarkable algal vegetation of short, closely branched, moss-like plants have developed. Most species of this vegetation may also be observed in deeper, more quiet water, where they are much better developed. A number of species are found exclusively in exposed places. Very abundant at the same level is the urchin Echinometra lucunter, which has its lower limit at a depth of 45—50 cm. When a lot of sand is carried by the waves, species such as Chondria tenuissima and Digenea simplex are abundant. Much coral, especially Millepora alcicornis, may be found as high as the uppermost part of the sublittoral region

The total number of species (218) is considerably lower than that given by Borgesen for the Virgin Islands. Several reasons may be indicated to explain this difference. Our samples were taken by walking along the coast, or by swimming and diving; they only include specimens from a rather narrow and shallow strip along the shore. Borgesen, however, also got samples from a greater depth. He visited the Virgin Islands several times and was able to pay special attention to difficult groups. Furthermore, much attention was given by him to very small epiphytes, for instance, the genus Acrochaetium, of which several new species were described. Our investigation confirms the conclusions by Taylor (1955). The Caribbean marine flora is an exceedingly rich one. After the elimination of early and ill-described species still, 790 well-defined species are known.

The study of the extensive collection of marine algae collected in the Netherlands Antilles during our stay in 1957/58 was started with the material from the islands of St. Martin, St. Eustatius, and Saba (Lesser Antilles). The algal vegetation of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao will be treated in separate publications. The book contents describe below:

  • Introduction
  • Habitat Factors
  • Survey of the Literature on the Algal Vegetations in the Caribbean
  • Survey of the Observations on the Algal Vegetations of St. Martin, St. Eustatius, and Saba
  • Summary and Discussion

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