State of Nature: Bonaire
Wageningen Research recently published an alarming report on the natural resources of the three Dutch Caribbean islands Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius, commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV). All 33 experts that worked on this report concluded that the "Conservation status of the biodiversity in the Caribbean Netherlands is assessed as moderately unfavorable to very unfavorable”.
The island of Bonaire has an incredible range of tropical habitats from dense mangrove forests to rich coral reefs. While many of these habitats have been considered pristine in the past with high species diversity, the Wageningen Research report paints a bleak picture for the current state of Bonaire’s ecosystems, stressing that things will only get worse if the island does not significantly increase its investment in conservation. If the current rate of habitat degradation is maintained, important ecological functions such as erosion control and storm protection will be lost and the economic repercussions will be disastrous. Recent TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) research found that nature/ecosystem services of Bonaire have an annual economic value of 105 million USD, which represented 31% of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 (Cado van der Lely et al., 2013; CBS, 2014).
Dry Tropical Forest
Bonaire is dominated by dry tropical forests which do well in climates of high wind, high temperatures and low annual rainfall. In fact, Bonaire has the largest area of dry tropical forests in the entire Dutch Caribbean. These forests host a wide variety of life and are mostly dominated by cacti which play a critical role by providing fruit during dry periods to many species of bats and birds (Petit & Pors, 1996). Dry tropical forests are also important for retaining sediment, preventing coastal erosion, increasing the retention of freshwater and capturing CO2in soil and plants. Unfortunately, according to the WWF Neotropical Ecoregion classification, the rating for these forests on Bonaire has been set as “critical/endangered” (WWF, 2017).
Although there is not enough baseline data to draw long term conclusions, a considerable part of the dry tropical forests on Bonaire is considered severely degraded (Freitas et al, 2005,2008). By comparing the current land area to historical values, it can be seen that these areas have become much smaller, mostly due to agriculture, overgrazing by free roaming feral livestock and human expansion (Freitas et al, 2005, 2008). Many invasive species also stress local forests as they’ve been seen to out compete local trees and scrubs (Debrot et al., 2011).
Fortunately, a number of reforestation projects have been started on Bonaire. This includes a project by NGO Echo, an organization that, since 2016, has worked to fence off threatened areas and has planted over 13,000 trees in nine areas (mainly in the northern part of Bonaire) as part of the nature funding projects commissioned by the Bonaire government and funded by the Ministry of LNV (pers. co. Julianka Clarenda, NGO Echo). This is in addition to other similar projects on Klein Bonaire and San José.
Overall, the conservation status for the state of the dry tropical forests has been evaluated as “veryunfavorable”. It is recommended that actions are taken to protect the local dry tropical forests, in both area and species diversity. This can be done through reforestation efforts, managing invasive species and prevent overgrazing by free roaming feral livestock.
Bonaire has hundreds of wet and dry caves which host a variety of unique life forms. Five different species of bats have been spotted on Bonaire, at least two of which are known to play a critical role in the terrestrial ecosystem as they are the only animal species that can pollinate the nocturnal columnar cacti (Nassar et al., 2003). Aside from bats, these caves are also important habitats for shrimp and many different freshwater crustaceans.
In 2016, the Caribbean Speleological Society (CARIBSS; www.caribss.org) was established to explore, map, protect and manage the caves of Bonaire. Since 2017, they have worked to establish a “Bonaire Cave and Karst Reserve” to manage the caves, certify guides and close off areas to protect local bat populations. This project, funded by the Ministry of LNV, is a collaborative effort between WILDCONSCIENCE, Public Entity Bonaire and CARIBSS (http://www.bonairecaves.com).
These delicate ecosystems can be easily unbalanced by excess visitation by people or contamination of soil and water by untreated sewage. It is recommended that these caves be mapped and studied to allow for a more complete management of these systems. Efforts, such as the strategic bat protective program 2014-2018, are also important for the conservation of caves and local bat populations (Simal, 2013). Overall, the assessment for the state of caves has been evaluated as “moderatelyunfavorable”.
Most of the beaches of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire are comprised of washed up coral rubble and a few “white” sand beaches. These beaches are an important breeding and foraging habitat for many species of coastal birds and sea turtles. Due to increased pressures from climate change (e.g. sea level rise and higher temperatures), tourism, urban development, invasive species, pollution and illegal mining of sand, these critical habitats are now being threatened more than ever (Henkens and Debrot, 2018). Sargassum has recently also become a significant stressor for the beaches of Bonaire, as improper removal of Sargassum can lead to excessive sand loss (CBC News, 2015; Mercopress, 2015).
Due to the steep bathymetry around Bonaire there is not a lot of sand available within the shallow waters. Coupled with high wave energy along the coasts, beaches tend to only form in protected areas with wide, shallow beachfronts. Although the beaches of Bonaire are not a huge driver for tourism, these beaches do provide important environmental services to locals as well as coastal protection.
It is recommended that current distribution and surface area of sandy beaches be maintained or improved. This should be done by protecting beaches from exploitation of illegal sand mining, pollution, excessive sand loss from Sargassum management and over urbanization. Overall, the conservation status for the state of beaches has been evaluated as “veryunfavorable”.
Bonaire has a mangrove forest of 365 hectares, which is less than 2% of the total mangroves of the Lesser Antilles. This area provides important ecosystem services in the form of coastal protection, important nursery and foraging areas for many species of fish, crustaceans and birds, along with supporting other important habitats such as seagrass and coral reefs. Traditionally, these forests are well adapted to rising sea-levels (McKee et al. 2007). However, additional pressures due to climate change, urbanization, tourism and over exploitation are now putting this habitat at risk (Simpson et al., 2011; Polidoro et al., 2010).
Overall eutrophication of Lac Bay has led to an increase in lime sediment production, which is causing the mangroves to infill (Slijkerman et al., 2011). Overgrazing along the borders of the mangroves also causes land sediment to enter the mangroves, leading to an overall decrease in mangrove health which further harms seagrass and local fish health (Hylkema et al., 2014) and affects wading birds which rest and feed in these areas (Debrot et al., 2013; Debrot et al. 2014).
It is recommended to continue current efforts to improve water depth and circulation within the mangroves through the removal of accumulated sediments and opening of connection channels. Furthermore, reductions in overgrazing and human disruptions to the mangroves should be put in place. Finally, overall water quality of the Lac Bay area can be improved by reducing contamination of ground water and run off through proper waste water treatment and protection of the upstream catchment area through spatial planning. Overall, the assessment for the state of mangroves has been evaluated as “moderatelyunfavorable”.
Salt pans and salt lakes (saliñas)
Bonaire also has salt pans and salt lakes, or saliñas, including five internationally recognized wetland areas that are under the protection of the Ramsar convention. Saliñas are semi-enclosed, saltwater bodies which form near the coast and experience salinity shifts from nearly fresh water to hypersaline conditions throughout the year (Jongman et al., 2009). Saliñas are important areas for many different species of seagrass, fish, crustaceans and coastal birds, specifically flamingos, terns and sandpipers (Kristensen, 1970; Kristensen and Hulscher-Emeis, 1972; Debrot et al., 2009; Wells and Wells, 2006). In fact, Bonaire is one of the most important breeding grounds for three species of regionally endangered terns, the common thief, the American dwarf and the American great tern (Debrot et al., 2009; Halewijn and Norton, 1984; Voous, 1983).
As saliñas are often used as important breeding grounds for birds, they are highly susceptible to human disturbances. In addition, soil and groundwater contamination and overgrazing by free roaming feral livestock further threaten the health and utility of these habitats (Neijenhuis et al., 2015; Lagerveld et al., 2015; Debrot, 2016). With the exception of Goto lake, which has been well documented to be seriously affected by industrial pollution (Slijkerman et al., 2013, de Vries et al., 2017), little is known about the contamination of saliñas elsewhere on the island.
It is recommended that overgrazing by free roaming feral livestock and disruptions from humans and invasive species (specifically cats) be limited around the areas of saliñas. Furthermore, improvements to waste water treatment should be implemented to avoid groundwater contamination, along with more careful consideration of underlying drainage areas for future land development. Overall, the conservation status for the state of salt pans and salt lakes has been evaluated as “moderatelyunfavorable”.
Seagrass and algae fields
Seagrass fields are a very important habitat as they provide food, shelter and nurseries for many fish species, the queen conch and sea turtles. Seagrass fields also help prevent sediment erosion in near shore environments of beaches, can help improve water quality and capture CO2. These fields are typically found in lagoons or shallow coastal zones, the most notable seagrass fields on Bonaire can be found in Lagun and Lac Bay. In fact, the seagrass fields of Bonaire constitute 75% of the seagrass within the entire Caribbean Netherlands. Seagrass fields often host a variety of algae as well. Algae fields, mainly the seaweed Sargassum polyceratium, can be found along the entire east coast of Bonaire, especially in areas where strong water currents make it difficult for coral to flourish (Bak, 1975). Most seaweed fields have been known to provide food, shelter and nursery grounds for many species of reef fish (Chaves et al, 2013). However, these particular fields around Bonaire have not been fully studied or mapped, so little is known on the role they play.
It is recommended that seagrass fields be protected by limiting the damage done by tourists and by improving water quality by controlling land sediment run off, eutrophication, and pollution. Unfortunately, native seagrasses are being replaced with invasive species, as seen through an observational study which compared the years between 1999 - 2007 and 2001 - 2013 (Engel, 2013). Although sufficient data, which could be used to show long term trends is missing, based on recent mapping of Lac Bay, it is believed that suitable habitat for seagrass is decreasing due to an increase in available sediment causing the bay to infill (Erdman and Scheffers, 2006; Hylkema et al., 2014). Additional stressors such as trampling by tourists and windsurfers, coupled with negative effects of climate change such as increased water temperatures, Sargassum blooms and stronger storms will continue to threaten local seagrass fields (Debrot et al., 2010; CRFM, 2014; CAST, 2015). Overall, the conservation status for the state of seagrass fields has been evaluated as “veryunfavorable” while the conservation status for the state of the algae fields has been evaluated as “moderatelyunfavorable”.
The coral reefs of Bonaire are biologically very diverse and play a critical role both environmentally and economically. While the coral reefs around Bonaire have suffered in recent decades from regional phenomena such as repeated bleaching events, urchin die-off, coral diseases and local impacts such as coastal development, pollution and overfishing, they are still considered some of the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean (Jackson et al., 2014). Healthy coral requires ample light, therefore decreases in water quality and over sedimentation caused by urbanization and overgrazing can threaten coral reefs. Overfishing of herbivorous fish can also offset the natural balance and lead to algal blooms, which outcompete local corals (Mumby, 2009). Further stressors due to climate change, such as increased water temperature, ocean acidification and increased strength in storms further threaten local reefs.
Coral cover on Bonaire’s reefs has historically been high, with a coral cover of nearly 50% between 1999 and 2010 (Kramer, 2003). The study by de Bakker et al. (2016) at Karpata found that the abundance of corals declined between 14 and 65% over the past 40 years at 10, 20, 30, and 40 meters depth, with the biggest decline at a depth of 20 meters. A 2015 study, which estimated coral coverage along the west coast of Bonaire (data WMR), found that of 115 sites surveyed, there was an average live coral cover of only 11.2%, showing an alarming downward trend for local corals. For all Bonaire sites visited, 46% of the locations were scored as “poor” and 48% scored as “fair”. Klein Bonaire, on the other hand, only had 2 of the 21 sites surveyed scored as “poor” showing healthier reefs on less frequented reefs. Overall, the 58% increase of sandy patches around the west coast of the island between the 1980s and 2013 indicates a significant decline in coral cover (Mücher et al., 2017).
The Wageningen Research report recommended that long term efforts be taken to increase live coral coverage to at least an average of 30%. Maintaining healthy reefs is an important task which has long reaching consequences. A decrease in coral reefs will certainly have a negative effect on tourism, fisheries and coastal protection. Overall, the conservation status for the state of coral has been evaluated as “veryunfavorable”.
Open Sea and Deep Sea
For this report, any water depth deeper than 100 m is treated as “deep sea” and/or “open sea”. One of the highest areas of productivity within the Caribbean can be found within the waters between Venezuela and Bonaire, where wind-driven upwelling brings cold nutrient-rich waters to the surface mostly between January and May (Rueda-Roa and Muller-Karger, 2013). Furthermore, the waters around Bonaire are part of a wider area considered to be the second richest ‘hotspot’ for biodiversity within the Caribbean (Smith et al., 2002).
Fishing has always played an important role for the people on Bonaire. A recent increase in marine pollution, physical changes due to climate change along with many human factors such as overfishing and noise pollution from shipping and exploration are threatening many commercially important fish stocks and large migrating predators. In general, too little is known about the deep sea environmental conditions to allow scientific predictions for the future.
Therefore, it is recommended that research be conducted to better understand the functions of the deep sea to allow responsible management of this environment. Furthermore, the current state of fish populations should be better understood to ensure sustainable fishing practices are in place. Overall, the conservation status for the state of the open sea and deep sea has been evaluated as “moderatelyunfavorable”.
In total, there are 43 plant species which have been designated as protected on Bonaire, which includes trees, cacti, bromeliads, orchids and ferns. Although many of the plants on this list are becoming very rare on Bonaire, some were included due to their critical role within the ecosystem, either providing fruit during the dry season or a strong interdependence with other locally endangered bats (Petit, 1997).
Based on data currently available, no long- or short-term trends could be determined. However, it is noted that the main concern is protecting species of limited numbers or those with little to no rejuvenation. The largest threat to these species is unsuitable habitat caused by overgrazing by free roaming feral livestock which leads to sediment erosion and decreased water retention and available nutrients (Vergeer, 2017).
It is recommended that free roaming feral livestock be reduced and controlled to improve quality of habitat for local plant species. In addition, more information concerning these rare or endangered plant species should be gathered to aid in their restoration efforts. Overall, the conservation status for the state of plant species has been evaluated as “veryunfavorable”.
Endangered Bird Species
The yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot, known locally as the lora, has received an IUCN rating of ‘vulnerable’ meaning there is a 10% chance of extinction in the next 100 years. The lora population of Bonaire is the only native population outside of Venezuela and estimates put it at representing 16-64% of the total population worldwide (Echo, 2015; Birdlife International, 2017). The annual lora count that started in 1980, suggests that the number of parrots at the surveyed roosts on Bonaire is increasing steadily. While numbers of parrots counted has fluctuated each year, the overall trend seems to be improving. Even though it has not been statistically proven, these population increases might be related to the start of conservation efforts on the island, including population monitoring (Echo, STINAPA, DRO, Salba Nos Lora), nest site management (Echo), awareness campaign (STINAPA, Echo, Salba Nos Lora), rescue and release of injured birds (Echo), enforcement of protected status (Toezicht and Handhaving Police) and tree planting (Echo, STINAPA and Salba Nos Lora ). Recently, a study by Rivera-Milán et al. (2018) in collaboration with STINAPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service and WILDCONSCIENCE found other results. Their systematic distance-sampling surveys in 2009-2017 show a slight decline in the population estimate for lora’s in Bonaire over the past years most probably because of the drought, although other factors cannot be discarded including an increase in human-induced mortality.
Williams (2012) believes that as much as 80% of the population is unable to breed due to high age and lack of suitable breeding grounds. Overgrazing by free roaming feral livestock, urbanization and stresses brought on by climate change are the largest threats to lora’s populations. Poaching and destroying the nests and habitat when doing so remains the largest threat to lora’s populations. Overall, the conservation status for the state of loras has been evaluated as “veryunfavorable”.
The Caribbean flamingo is a both locally (on Bonaire) and internationally protected. This species is assessed by IUCN as ‘least concern’. The breeding colony on Bonaire is considered one of the largest and most protected colonies within the south Caribbean (Voous, 1983). The largest threats to flamingos are a decrease in foraging areas and disruption, as they are easily frightened away from breeding nests, leaving eggs and their young vulnerable. Most of the flamingos breed in the flamingo sanctuary in Pekelmeer, a national reserve and Ramsar site, which is completely off-limits and managed by the Cargill company. Some breeding sites show an upward trend in breeding pair numbers and other seem stable or show a decreasing trend since the 1980s with differences between studies (Slijkerman et al., 2013; Prins et al., 2009; Kigon, 2006; https://www.dcbd.nl/monitoring/flamingos). Overall there are large fluctuations in counted breeding pairs between the years, and it is unclear what the underlying causes are.
Over the last two years, there seems to be more reports of far-wandering, mostly flightless and sometimes malnourished, juvenile flamingos (an annual occurrence with high winds). Cargill Salt Company, together with the Island government Bonaire and STINAPA Bonaire are setting up research projects to investigate food availability, health status, water quality and behavior. Bonaire Wild Bird Rehab is taking care of wandering flamingo juveniles by nourishing them and returning them into the wild. Recent monitoring data shows that juvenile flamingo numbers increased during the last two years in relation to the prior 15 years (Public Entity Bonaire). However, the overall, conservation status for the state of Caribbean flamingos on Bonaire has been evaluated by WUR as “very unfavorable”.
Bonaire hosts 5 different tern species which are regionally assessed between ‘vulnerable’ and ‘endangered’. Bonaire has traditionally been an important nesting area for the common tern, cayenne tern and the least tern. Bonaire is also home to the royal and the roseate terns, both regionally considered endangered (Schreiber, 2000; USFWS, 2010). These birds are highly susceptible to disturbances, especially since they lay their eggs on bare stretches of ground which leaves them susceptible to human disturbances and predators. Overall, the conservation status for the state of roseate tern is still unknown, the common tern is rated as “very unfavorable” while the least, cayenne and royal terns have been rated “moderatelyunfavorable”.
There are 11 marine mammal species known to inhabit the waters around Bonaire (Debrot et al., 2011). Most of the information on these species comes from opportunistic observations, meaning data could be insufficient or missing all together. Bonaire’s proximity to the most important upwelling area and many migration routes makes it very appealing to a variety of marine mammal species (Debrot et al, 1998). Marine mammals are highly susceptible to disturbances related to recreation and ecotourism. Noise pollution from large ships and cruise boats can also result in physical collisions or hearing damage (Mann et al., 2010; Luksenburg, 2014). Due to the migratory nature of most marine mammals, it is very difficult to estimate current population sizes.
It is recommended that basic management of the Yarari marine mammal and shark reserve is implemented to ensure proper conservation efforts are in place. Furthermore, passive acoustic monitoring of marine mammals should be continued and expanded to gain more information on local mammal populations. Overall, the conservation status for the state of marine mammals has been evaluated as “moderatelyunfavorable”.
The Dutch Caribbean is home to five different species of sea turtles. Four out of these five species have been known to nest on Bonaire, one species (the Olive Ridley) only migrates through the waters of the Dutch Caribbean. Furthermore, Klein Bonaire historically had the second highest concentration of nesting hawksbill and loggerhead turtles in the south Caribbean (Becking et al., 2016). Although the annual number of nests varies, total numbers appear to be fairly stable (STCB, 2014). The largest threats to local turtle populations come from degrading seagrass foraging fields, poor beach quality and disorientation from light pollution (Salmon, 2003). Anthropogenic stresses such as pollution, coastal development and accidental bycatch by fisheries also threaten local turtle populations. Further stresses caused by climate change, such as an increase in Sargassum, are damaging seagrass fields necessary for foraging, affecting the turtles’ ability to nest on beaches and causing hatchlings to become stranded in areas such as Lac Bay and Lagun.
It is recommended that foraging seagrass fields and nesting beaches be further maintained or improved to allow an expansion of the nesting sea turtle populations. Overall, the conservation status for the state of sea turtles has been evaluated as “veryunfavorable”.
The queen conch has a wide habitat, although due to pressures caused by overfishing and poaching, their numbers have been declining throughout the Caribbean (Bell et al., 2005). Conservation efforts on Bonaire have led to a slight recovery in local populations. However, there is still insufficient data to support long- or short-term trends (Engel, 2008). Although hunting of queen conch is prohibited on Bonaire, poaching is still a significant issue. Furthermore, since these species are often found in shallow, sandy areas, they are highly susceptible to local land threats such as pollution, degraded water quality, sedimentation and invasive species. It is recommended that local queen conch populations be further protected to ensure that the population growth is able to reach a sustainable population size of between 100-570 adult specimens per hectare. Overall, the conservation status for the state of queen conch has been evaluated as “moderatelyunfavorable”.
Fishing has been an important tradition on Bonaire, and until 50 years ago, fish served as the primary source of protein for most of the island’s population. Findings of recent studies show that Bonaire has a high density of small fish, however, larger predator fish have become very rare, especially along the west coast (Sandin et al. 2008; de Graaf et al. 2016). The current state of fishing hasn’t changed much over the last century, apart from motors replacing sails and nylon replacing cotton-braided nets, and a main focus on reef-associated pelagic fish.
Decreases in habitat due to loss in coral coverage, seagrass fields and mangroves further threatens fish stocks. In addition, overfishing and inefficient management has led to a recent decline in fish stocks, particularly in large predatory fish. It is recommended that actions be put into place to manage local fishing practices to ensure a sustainable future for fish stocks. The current status of unsustainable fisheries on Bonaire has a “veryunfavorable” impact on the island’s marine biodiversity.
Local and Regional Stressors
Overgrazing by introduced free roaming feral livestock (goats, sheep, donkeys and pigs) has been identified as the most significant threat to the terrestrial ecosystems (MinEZ, 2013; Smith et al., 2014). This overgrazing prohibits the retention of soil and small ground plants which has changed the overall structure, water management and even insect populations on the island (Debrot et al., 1999). In particular, it is common for stray donkeys and goats to strip the bark off column cacti which leads to the death of these cacti. The column cacti play a critical role on the island, as they provide fruit during the dry season, a food source many native animal species depend on (Petit, 1997).
It has been estimated that within the Slagbaai area the local goat population is capable of doubling every 1-1.5 years (Geurts, 2015). Based on studies on Curaçao, it is recommended that local goat and sheep populations be reduced to 1 per 10 hectares (from a current estimate of the entire island 1.4/ ha and Washington-Slagbaai National Park of 2.7/ ha), a value determined to allow native plants to recover (Debrot, 2015). Further reductions in overall free roaming feral livestock populations on the island must be considered for the protection of the local ecosystem and to ensure a sustainable future for native plants. The current numbers of grazing livestock on Bonaire have a “very unfavorable” impact on the island’s biodiversity.
Invasive species are also a significant threat to the local ecosystem, whether they are introduced to the island knowingly or are brought accidentally as hitchhikers on luggage or in ballast tanks of ships. The largest invasive threat to the island is free roaming feral livestock. In addition to the animals previously listed, cats are also becoming an issue, as they threaten local birds. Plants such as the rubber vine, Scaevola taccada(known as beach cabbage) and Neem trees are quickly expanding, out competing many local plants. Underwater, Lionfish are rapidly increasing in number, capable of consuming a vast number of smaller fish each day, threatening local fish populations. Additionally, the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea is also increasing rapidly, and has become the dominant species within two years of its introduction (Becking et al., 2014).
Early action is recommended to identify, control and eradicate invasive species. This is only possible through public awareness, so efforts should continue to be made to help local populations quickly identify and understand the dangers of these invasive species. The current status of invasive species on Bonaire has a “very unfavorable” impact on the island’s biodiversity.
The Caribbean will continue to be affected by global stressors due to climate change. This includes, but is not limited to, more extreme weather patterns, worsening of overall water quality, and sea level rise. These changes will place even more pressure on the islands, and careful management will be required to minimize these effects. Although overall greenhouse emissions from these small islands are minimal when compared to the global scale, these islands will be the first and some of the most drastically impacted by global climate changes (IPCC, 2013).
The degradation of wave-breaking coral reefs coupled with worsening storms will likely contribute to more storm related damages (Frieler et al., 2013). Deterioration of coral reefs, shifts in migration patterns and the worsening of water quality conditions can also negatively affect fisheries, and could lead to a total collapse of specific commercial fish species (Bari and Cochrane, 2011). A warmer and more humid climate could also lead to a population boom for mosquitos, increasing the risk of mosquito-related diseases (EPA, 2014; de Hamer, 2015). Worsening of specialized habitats could also endanger local species which depend on these specific conditions to live (Myers et al., 2000; Roberts et al., 2005).
As the Nature Policy Plan of the Dutch Caribbean (Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2013) states, "It is not possible to influence climate change from the islands, however it is possible to improve the resilience of ecosystems so that they can adapt to changes better and the consequences are kept to a minimum”. Therefore, it will continue to be of the upmost importance for each island to do its part in monitoring and implementing policies to minimize the damages caused by climate change. Efforts such as monitoring waste water treatment and reforestation can help minimize anthropogenic effects on each island. The current stressors experienced by Bonaire due to climate change have a “very unfavorable”impact on the island’s marine and terrestrial biodiversity.
Figure 2: Climate-related drivers of impacts on small islands (Nurse et al., 2014)
Conclusions and Recommendations
The assessment of the overall biodiversity within the Caribbean Netherlands has been assessed as moderately to veryunfavorable. The main concern is for marine species such as marine mammals and sea turtles, since there is a substantial lack of data for at least 50% of these species (EEA, 2015). Figure 3 below illustrates the seriousness of these issues, as all categories have been evaluated as moderately to very unfavorable, given available data. The most significant threats to the future of these islands are largely related to overfishing, overgrazing, invasive species and climate change (with the first three being responsible for the quality rating of more than 80% of the habitats as moderate to very unfavorable).
Overall monitoring and management efforts need to be increased to meet the requirements to protect the rich biodiversity of the Caribbean Netherlands. There is a disturbing lack of information concerning many important species groups such as bats, sharks, orchids and pollinators. Understanding the current status of biodiversity for each of the islands will be crucial for planning the way forward.
Collaborative efforts between the government, NGOs, business and knowledge institutions (known as the Golden Triangle) will be increasingly important for a sustainable future. In 2013, the economic value of ecosystem services for Bonaire was estimated at 31% of GDP, yet less than one thousandth (0.1%) of Bonaire’s governmental annual budget goes toward conservation efforts (van Beek et al., 2015). A fundamental shift in how governments view investing in their own environments will be required to accomplish the tasks necessary for a sustainable future.
Figure 3: Conservation status of the current state of nature (2017) of 11 habitats and 12 species (group) and in the Dutch Caribbean
The Conservation Status is used in the European Union for reporting on the status of species and habitats protected under the European Habitat Directive (see http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/legislation/habitatsdirective/ind...).