In 2015 an Expert group assessed the ten Dutch World Heritage candidate sites and advised the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science with regards to the potential nomination of Bonaire National Marine Park. The conclusion was that further research is needed to demonstrate its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). According to the Expert group, the current size and boundaries of BNMP do not contain features which qualify the property as unique, hence extension of the BNMP boundaries was recommended. Possibilities for extension are the island Curaçao, the islands off the coast of Venezuela and the 12 miles zone.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Affairs it was decided to start by studying the nature values of the 12 miles zone of Bonaire, because this is the most feasible boundary extension. The 12 miles zone of Bonaire has a total area of almost 360,000 ha, which is a 74-fold enlargement compared to the 4,860 ha of the current boundaries of BNMP.
The objective was to determine the existence of potential nature values per zone based on the following criteria: rare, threatened or characteristic species; rare, untouched or undisturbed geomorphological features; important physical oceanographic features; potential ecosystem services. An inventory of previous studies by IMARES and available data from two deep sea expeditions in 2000 and 2013 were incorporated in this study.
Our review updates the current state of knowledge on the deep sea of the Caribbean Sea, focussing on the 12 miles zone of Bonaire. It provides a general framework for the decision making process on the boundary extension of the potential World Heritage Site and how to strengthen the potential OUV.
The available information shows that the 12 miles zone contains some attributes that will strengthen the OUV to some extent, such as the discovery of 16 species new to science at the deeper reef of Bonaire and the presence of some species endemic to the Southern Caribbean Ecoregion. Convincing documentation is still lacking, however evidence from past deep sea expeditions indicates that further studies of deep water biodiversity will likely easily yield a wealth of new species. Also potential offshore sea mounts within the 12 miles zone of Bonaire may be worthwhile investigating, by mapping the seafloor through a bathymetric survey. These potential habitats, structures and new species in the 12 miles zone of Bonaire could greatly add to the OUV of the BNMP.