A post-hurricane rapid assessment of reefs in the Windward Netherlands Antilles (stony corals, algae and fishes)
Reefs of the windward Netherlands Antilles (Saba, Saba Bank, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten) were assessed at 24 sites in the late 1999. The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGGRA) protocol was used with modifications to detect recent hurricane impacts. Live coral cover averaged 18%. The assemblage of >10 cm stony corals was primarily composed of small-sized colonies (mean diameter = 37 cm) of which the Montastraea annularis complex was the most abundant (30% of colonies). Overall, =1% of the individually surveyed colonies had been physically damaged by Hurricane Lenny but injury levels were higher in Saba (2.6%). Bleaching was noted in 23% of colonies at the time of the assessment with the greatest percentage occurring on St. Maarten (44%) and the lowest on Saba Bank (9%). Total (recent + old) partial mortality of reef-building corals averaged less than 18% although levels were higher (26%) in Colpophyllia natans. Coral recruitment densities were relatively consistent (mean = 5 recruits/m2) across sites. Commercially significant fish species (i.e. serranids, lutjanids, haemulids >5 cm) were present with mean densities of 4.5 individuals/100 m2. High biomass (mean = 5.8 kg/100 m2) of grazing, herbivorous fishes (acanthurids, scarids >5 cm, Microspathodon chrysurus) partially explains the relatively low macroalgal cover (mean = 7%) throughout this area. Saba’s fish community had a greater total biomass than those in the other three geographic areas (mean = 11 kg/100 m2 versus 7 kg/100 m2). While the coral reefs of St. Maarten show signs of disturbance (i.e., increased bleaching and sedimentation), those of Saba, Saba Bank, and southern St. Eustatius have been relatively little disturbed by coastal development and remain potential sources of marine life. Nevertheless, reef development in the windward Netherlands Antilles is limited by frequent hurricanes.