Caribbean

Importance of differentiating Orbicella reefs from gorgonian plains for ecological assessments of Caribbean reefs

ABSTRACT: Region-wide assessments of coral cover typically rely on meta-analyses of small- scale ecological studies which have combined different coral reef habitats. This is particularly problematic on forereefs where at least 2 habitats can be found; coral-based bioherms and colo- nized hardgrounds (hereafter Orbicella reefs and gorgonian plains), each with very different structure and scleractinian coral cover. Here, we quantify the degree to which the failure to differ- entiate forereef zones dominated by framework building corals, mainly Orbicella spp. (hereafter Orbicella reefs) from gorgonian plains can lead to biased assessments of coral cover. We also pro- vide a baseline of an extensive sample of Caribbean coral reefs in 2010−2012 for the 2 habitats within the forereef. Mean scleractinian coral cover (±SE) at Orbicella reefs was 24 ± 1.3%, more than double the coral cover found on the gorgonian plains (10 ± 1.6%). The difference in coral cover between habitats within the same geomorphological zone is consistent with those calculated from an independent dataset for the basin (Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment). Further- more, the average coral cover calculated for Caribbean Orbicella reefs was more than double the values previously reported for entire reefs in the region a decade ago (10%), which integrated data from different habitats, depths, time periods and surveyors. Differentiating between forereef habitats has provided a meaningful baseline of coral state, which allows for realistic targets for management in the Caribbean basin. 

Date
2015
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire
Curacao

Hierarchical spatial patterns in Caribbean reef benthic assemblages

Aim

Coral assemblages on Caribbean reefs have largely been considered to be biogeographically homogeneous at a regional scale. We reassess this in three taxa (corals, sponges and octocorals) using three community attributes with increasing levels of information (species richness, composition and relative abundance) across hierarchical spatial scales, and identify the key environmental drivers associated with this variation.

Location

Caribbean Basin.

Methods

We assessed reefs along 546 transects positioned within the same forereef habitat (Orbicella reef) in 11 countries, using a consistent methodology and surveyors. Spatial variability in richness, composition and relative abundance was assessed at four hierarchical spatial scales – transects (metres), sites (kilometres), areas (tens of kilometres) and regions (hundreds of kilometres) – using permutational multivariate analysis of variance (PERMANOVA). The relevance of contemporary environmental factors in explaining the observed spatial patterns was also assessed using PERMANOVA.

Results

Consistent with previous studies, species richness of coral assemblages, commonly the focus of biogeographical studies, showed little variance at large spatial scales. In contrast, species composition and relative abundance showed significant variability at regional scales. Coral, sponge and octocoral assemblages each varied independently across spatial scales. Rugosity and wave exposure were key drivers of the composition and relative abundance of coral and octocoral assemblages.

Main conclusions

Caribbean reef assemblages exhibit considerable biogeographical variability at broad spatial scales (hundreds of kilometres) when more responsive community attributes were used. However, the high degree of variability within sites (kilometres) highlights the relevance of local ecological drivers such as rugosity and wave exposure in structuring assemblages. The high levels of within-site variability that is not explained by environmental variables may suggest a previously unrealized contribution of anthropogenic disturbance operating at local scales throughout the region.

 

Date
2015
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire
Curacao

Deepwater marine litter densities and composition from submersible video-transects around the ABC-islands, Dutch Caribbean.

Baseline data on anthropogenic seafloor debris contamination in the year 2000 is provided for 24 submersible video transects at depths of 80-900 m, off the Dutch ABC-islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao), in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. In total, 202 objects were documented from a combined 21,184 m of transect, ranging from sandy lower island-slope to rocky upper island-slope habitat. Debris densities differed significantly with depth. Highest debris accumulation (0.459 items 100 m(-2) or 4590 items per km(2)) occurred at depths of 300-600 m on more shallow-sloping (20-30°) sand and silt bottoms. The overall average debris density was 0.27 objects per 100 m(2) (or 2700 items per km(2)), which is an order of magnitude higher than most other deepwater debris studies. What we describe may be representative for other small, populated, steep volcanic Caribbean islands. Food and beverage-related items were the single largest usage category identified (44% of objects; mostly glass beverage bottles).

Date
2014
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao

An Inventory of the Geographical Distribution and Conservation Status ofMarine Turtles and Sharks in the Wider Caribbean andRelationship to Fisheries

Findings on Marine Turtles
·         Migration routes to and from nesting sites (typically index beaches) are variously known in the Caribbean, increasingly from satellite telemetry and studies of genetics. Without doubt the WWF priority areas are connected to each other, as well as to others in the Caribbean and to the high seas, especially the Sargasso Sea, through their shared responsibility for marine turtles during their different life stages.
·         Nesting habitat for marine turtles in the Caribbean are reasonably well know, although data is continually accruing from existing and new projects that monitor nesting activity. The imperative is to capture and share data in a meaningful way so as to enable comparison between sites and to permit the analysis of population trends.
·         There is a growing focus on in-water monitoring which helps to shed light on foraging sites. A number of parallel efforts by coral reef researchers to monitor ecosystems also provide valuable information on coral reef health and resilience to climate change in the region. While these studies are useful in highlighting overall declines in the coral reef ecosystems upon which marine turtles depend, there was found to be lack of similar efforts to monitor seagrass habitat for marine turtles, or  water  quality  monitoring  in  what  is  a  highly  populated  region  with  increasing  coastal development that generally lacks urban environmental infrastructure.
·         MPAs in the Caribbean have not specifically been designed as a network to protect endangered marine turtles in their different life stages and habitats. There is better coverage of nesting beaches via terrestrial protected areas than of foraging sites in marine protected areas (MPAs), which also reflects the reality of competing interests from fisheries, oil exploration and infrastructure development. Effective MPAs require adequate management capacity, and enhanced enforcement capacity is a top priority need among Caribbean MPAs.
·         Threats to marine turtles are extensive. The most common threats to nesting turtles shared by the priority areas are artificial lighting, beach erosion/accretion and pollution The most common threats to foraging/migrating turtles are fisheries entanglement, bycatch and pollution. Throughout the Caribbean it is evident that financial and human resources are a major challenge for governments, NGOs and communities in taking forward marine turtle conservation efforts.
 
Findings on Sharks
·         Information relevant to sharks in the Caribbean was found to be spread throughout a wide range and a large volume of literature. The disparate sources of shark information include reports from national scientific and fisheries divisions, from regional fisheries management organizations, from multilateral  agencies,  and  from  regional  and  international  academic  institutions.   Only  one publication was found to bring together regional shark information.
·         Consultation with key shark experts indicated that much is still unknown about sharks, even for the more common shallow water species. Still less is known about pelagic sharks and their movements into and through the eco-regions of the Caribbean.
·         Information on sharks was found to be unevenly distributed amongst the priority areas covered in this inventory. More extensive information on sharks was found to exist for non-priority areas of the Caribbean, such as Venezuela and the US, than for the priority areas. The inventory serves to highlight geographical gaps in knowledge about sharks in the Caribbean, for example in relation to Cuban sharks, and these geographical could guide further investigation.
·         Insufficient data exists to determine which shark species are of possible concern in the Caribbean. Also complicating the Indices of relative abundance were found to sometimes provide conflicting information on population trends.
·         Although sharks are highly migratory, information on shark movements in the Caribbean and the Sargasso Sea comes from only a handful of sources.
·         Some landings data exists for shark fisheries and some data exists on the incidental capture of sharks in other fisheries. However, making meaningful comparisons between datasets is a complex and time-consuming task which could be undertaken with a specialist partner such as a regional fisheries management organization or a researcher.
·         There is scope to seek further input on sharks from a number of knowledgeable experts who were willing to contribute but were unavailable for consultation in the timeframe of this inventory.
·         Some of the information that was compiled in the course of the inventory was found to be old and/or limited in its coverage. Expert consultation raised a number of doubts about key references such as IUCN classification of sharks. There is a fundamental need to validate the presence of sharks in the region and assess their population status. Recommended follow-up to this inventory could be key local informant interviews with fishers and relevant local experts in each of the priority areas about shark sightings, catch and bycatch.
·         A key step towards effective management of Caribbean Sharks would be a meeting of regional shark scientists and experts to share data, assess its application to conservation and sustainable use, and to develop a strategy for addressing significant gaps in knowledge. Such a meeting focused on Caribbean sharks has not yet been achieved.
 
Recommendations on GIS
·         Continue GIS data scoping and the collection of existing information from organisations working on similar initiatives. Invest in understanding existing governance frameworks and building partnerships for future collaboration with other regional fisheries management organisations, BINGOs (TNC and ICUN),  Universities  (UWI,  CERMES),  local  and  regional  NGOs  (see  Mahon  et  al.  2013  for  full Caribbean governance review), with a view to developing a data sharing agreement with key partners. This would enable continued sharing of GIS data collected and produced with others practitioners working the region.
·         Construct a Geodatabase that addresses WWF’s strategic priorities in the Caribbean region and which fills gaps in existing GIS information for these priorities. This could provide a valuable spatial synthesis of several types of information relevant to the priority areas.
·         The largest GIS data gap is in relation to sharks. There are a number of studies on sharks (i.e. NOAA fisheries observer boats, Fisheries Division’s datasets) but this data needs to be compiled and GIS data produced, which requires more significant effort than was possible within the scope of this inventory.
·         There are also opportunities to improve GIS data related to marine turtles. Turtle migration is an example of this. There are multiple initiatives by various different turtle conservation organisations and academic institutions that are tracking the migrations of marine turtles in the region, especially by satellite.  GIS data from satellite tracking from various locations in the region exists, but it has never been compiled at the regional level for large scale analysis of marine turtle migration. This task could be usefully undertaken in future, ideally in conjunction with the WIDECAST network.
·         We note that some marine turtle data used in GIS are dynamic rather than static in nature and in the interests of data integrity they would benefit from updating. For example, new information is constantly becoming available from nesting monitoring activities, both new from new projects and the ongoing activities of longer term projects. There have also been discoveries of marine turtle aggregations at foraging sites, providing new data to input to GIS. Threats to marine turtles across the region are emerging and changing, for example in relation to tourism development, and creative approaches to GIS representation of this information could be developed to assist with monitoring impacts on population status and trends.
·         In  the  course  of  this  inventory  we  explored  some  new  approaches  to  mapping  marine  turtle populations   and   trends   with   the   aim   of   assisting   interpretation   and   enhancing   strategy development. The sample maps are based on data from Bonaire and the Guianas only, since comparable datasets were either missing for the other priority areas or could not be provided in the timeframe of the inventory.  There is potential to work further with WWF on the development of new GIS layers that directly feed into the strategy development process.
 

Date
2013
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten

High prevalence of dermal parasites among coral reef fishes of Curaçao

Abstract During expeditions to Curaçao in August and October of 2013, a large number of fish infected with dermal parasites was observed. Infected individuals pre- sented black spots and white blemishes on their skin and fins that were easily observed by divers, and which have been associated with infections by trematodes, turbel- larians, and protozoans (Cryptocaryon). In order to com- pare rates of infection across localities in the Caribbean, we conducted visual censuses of reef fish communities along 40 m2 belt transects in Belize (n = 35), Curaçao (n = 82), and Mexico (n = 80) over a 4-week period. Three affected individuals were recorded in Belize, 75 in Curaçao, and none in Mexico. Approximately 68 % of the infected individuals in Curaçao were surgeonfishes (Acanthuridae). There was no correlation between inci- dence of infection and species abundance (r2 = 0.03), or with functional traits (diet, mobility, schooling behavior, or position in the water column). The causes of the strik- ingly high incidence of dermal parasites in Curaçao and its consequences remain unknown. However, considering that parasites with complex life cycles have several hosts throughout their lives, and that past disease outbreaks have had severe consequences on communities of the Caribbe- an, we caution that coral reef ecosystems of Curaçao should be closely monitored. 

Date
2015
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Curacao

The non-use value of nature in the Netherlands and the Caribbean Netherlands

Since 10 October 2010 Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius (Statia) are part of the Netherlands. These three islands are referred to as the Caribbean Netherlands. The objective of this study is to assess the value that Dutch people as well as non-Dutch residents living in the Netherlands mainland assign to nature in the Caribbean Netherlands. This research applies two different stated preference techniques, the contingent valuation method (CVM) and choice experiments (CE), to determine the Willingness-To-Pay (WTP) of those living in the Netherlands for the conservation of ecosystem services and biodiversity in the Netherlands’ mainland and the Caribbean Netherlands.
Both methods provided new insights into the way people value the non-use values of nature in a national and local context. The surveys provided evidence for a nationalistic and community-based influence on valuation of nature. Both the CVM and the CE methods showed that locally-oriented Dutch citizens value nature in their own neighbourhood or country relatively higher than citizens with a global perspective or foreigners who live in the Netherlands and who place a lower value on improvement of nature in their own environment
Both surveys also showed that the values for nature both in and outside of the Netherlands depend heavily on the emotional mindset of the respondent. For example, individuals who are unconcerned about the state of nature in general value improvements of nature less than those who are concerned about nature. In the same fashion, consumer confidence proved to be a strong explanatory variable for value for nature protection: individuals with a high level of consumer confidence express a higher WTP for nature protection.
Finally, several methodological lessons were drawn from the surveys. These include the detection of ordering, anchoring and scoping effects, as well as the correlation between preference and payment uncertainty.
The estimated WTP amount for non-use values of nature in the Netherlands and the Caribbean Netherlands also allowed for the calculation of the aggregated values of both value domains. The non-adjusted aggregated annual amount of non-use value of nature in the Netherlands and the Caribbean Netherlands is estimated at €65 million and €34 million, respectively. However, by adjusting for preference and payment uncertainty of the respondent, the aggregated annual amount for the non-use value for nature improvements in the Netherlands is estimated at €34 million and for the Caribbean Netherlands at €18 million.

Date
2012
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
R-12/07
Geographic location
Bonaire

Habitat use of raptors in response to anthropogenic land use on Bonaire and Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles

Abstract:

We conducted fieldwork on Bonaire and Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles, to assess the distribu- tion and abundance of resident diurnal raptors. In total, seventy-three 1 km2 sample plots were selected following a stratified random method and three landscape types were distinguished, i.e. cultivated area, hills and terrace. The diurnal raptors observed were the Crested Caracara Caracara plancus (93 records), White-tailed Hawk Buteo albicaudatus (37), and the American Kestrel Falco sparverius (44 on Curaçao only). In the hills and on the terraces, all species were more abundant on Curaçao than on Bonaire. Caracaras were found significantly more in hills compared to terraces or cultivated land on both islands, as did White-tailed Hawks on Curaçao. The American Kestrel made more use of cultivated area and least of hills. As detection of the raptors did not seem to differ between the landscapes and between the islands, we infer that the observed differences in distribution are a true reflection of their habitat use. Our results suggest that the ongoing urbanization on Curaçao and Bonaire may lead to a decline in the Caracara and the White-tailed Hawk. For the American Kestrel, cultivated areas – including urbanized parts – apparently provide the open area the birds need for hunting. 

Date
2009
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire
Curacao

Vectored dispersal of Symbiodinium by larvae of a Caribbean gorgonian octocoral

Abstract:

The ability of coral reefs to recover from natural and anthropogenic disturbance is difficult to predict, in part due to uncertainty regarding the dispersal capabilities and connectivity of their reef inhabitants. We developed microsatellite markers for the broadcast spawning gorgonian octocoral Eunicea (Plexaura) flexuosa (four markers) and its dinoflagellate symbiont, Symbiodinium B1 (five markers), and used them to assess genetic connectivity, specificity and directionality of gene flow among sites in Florida, Panama, Saba and the Dominican Republic. Bayesian analyses found that most E. flexuosa from the Florida reef tract, Saba and the Dominican Republic were strongly differentiated from many E. flexuosa in Panama, with the exception of five colonies from Key West that clustered with colonies from Panama. In contrast, Symbiodinium B1 was more highly structured. At least seven populations were detected that showed patterns of isolation by distance. The symbionts in the five unusual Key West colonies also clustered with symbionts from Panama, suggesting these colonies are the result of long-distance dispersal. Migration rate tests indicated a weak signal of northward immigration from the Panama population into the lower Florida Keys. As E. flexuosa clonemates only rarely associated with the same Symbiodinium B1 genotype (and vice versa), these data suggest a dynamic host–symbiont relationship in which E. flexuosa is relatively well dispersed but likely acquires Symbiodinium B1 from highly struc- tured natal areas prior to dispersal. Once vectored by host larvae, these symbionts may then spread through the local population, and/or host colonies may acquire different local symbiont genotypes over time. 

Date
2013
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Saba

Sea Turtles as Flagships for Protection of the Wider Caribbean Region

Abstract:

Sea turtles are emerging as one of the most popular icons of the marine environment. Capitalising on their charismatic image, a remarkable variety of stake- holders, including scientists, conservationists, community-based organisations, corporations, and governments, have sought to utilise sea turtles as flagships. This paper focuses on the Wider Caribbean Region, emphasising small island developing states, and explores the ways, and appropriateness, of using sea turtles as flagships to motivate people to consider complex contemporary management and policy issues, including those associated with protected areas, fisheries, multilateral conservation of shared species and seascapes, and tourism. 

Date
2005
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Governance
Legislation
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten

Charging for Nature: Marine Park Fees and Management from a User Perspective

User fees can contribute to the financial sus- tainability of marine protected areas (MPAs), yet they must be acceptable to users. We explore changes in the fee system and management of Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP) from the perspective of users. Responses from 393 tourists indicated that 90% were satisfied with park conditions and considered current user fees reasonable. However, only 47% of divers and 40% of non-divers were prepared to pay more. Diver willingness-to-pay (WTP) appears to have decreased since 1991, but this difference could be due in part to methodological differences between studies. Although current fees are close to diver maximum stated WTP, revenues could potentially be increased by improving the current fee system in ways that users deem acceptable. This potential surplus highlights the value of understanding user perceptions toward MPA fees and management. 

Date
2010
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
Bonaire