A Report on the Status of the Coral Reefs of Bonaire in 2007 with Results from Monitoring 2003 – 2007
Bonaire’s reefs remain among the best in the Caribbean. However, our monitoring has revealed some potentially troubling trends that may require management action. In 2005, we reported to the Bonaire Marine National Park on the status of Bonaire’s coral reefs, and we suggested a strategy for monitoring trends among four key reef attributes we believe track the health and resilience of Bonaire’s reefs (Steneck and McClanahan 2005). Here we report the results of monitoring studies conducted 2003, 2005 and now 2007 at each site. Where appropriate, we drew from Bonaire’s first AGRRA assessment conducted in February 1999 (Kramer and Bischof 2003) to extend temporal trends over a period of eight years.
We see three troubling trends of increased macroalgae, declining herbivory from parrotfish, and increases in damselfish populations. Of these, the first two are most serious (see Chapters 1, 2 and 3). Secondary trends of concern, increases in damselfish populations (Chapter 4) and declines in coralline algae (Chapter 1), could lead to reduced recruitment of reef corals (Chapter 7), but to date this is not evident (Chapter 7). Importantly, coral cover remains relatively high (Chapter 1). The monitored group of carnivorous fishes, the lutjanid snappers, are holding constant but we remain concerned about the past (Steneck and McClanahan 2003) and continued loss of other larger bodied reef carnivores such as groupers and barracuda. The positive ecological role of parrotfish is well documented (e.g. Mumby et al. 2006) so their decline is troubling. It is unclear exactly why their population densities are declining. While parrotfish are not currently a widely sought group of reef fish (Chapter 8), fishing pressure on them is growing. It is possible they are vulnerable to even modest fishing pressure, particularly from fish traps. Accordingly, we recommend that the capture and killing of parrotfish be stopped because of their key ecological role on Bonaire’s coral reefs. Further, other groups of grazing herbivores such as the longspined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) are increasing but too slowly to effectively replace the functional role of parrotfish (Chapter 1). We suggest continued monitoring of key drivers of reef health (coral cover, algal abundance, herbivory and coral recruitment). Some standard protocols such as the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) are entirely commensurable with the data presented in our reports in 2003, 2005 and 2007 (this report). A streamlined monitoring protocol is likely to be most useful to managers to alert them as a potential problem is growing and, perhaps more importantly, to show improvement when it occurs.