Coral reefs

Fish poop: an underappreciated food source for coral reef fishes?

A new study by researchers from the University of Texas and California Polytechnic State University documented herbivorous fishes feeding on fish fecal pellets off the coast of Bonaire.  This has never been recorded in the Caribbean before and provides a deeper understanding of nutrient recycling and insight into the diverse diets of fishes who work to keep the local coral reefs healthy.

Blue parrotfish (Scarus coeruleus). Photo credit: Marion Haarsma

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, but they are also limited in nutrients. So, nutrient recycling is a vital part of supporting such reef organisms and their biodiversity. Organisms can’t process all the nutrients from the food they eat, so some of these nutrients come out in their poop. A new study documented a unique upcycling technique, previously unknown within the Caribbean, herbivorous fish feeding on fish feces.

Parrotfishes and surgeonfishes are often praised as the great caretakers of coral reefs, feeding on reef algae and keeping overgrowth in check, which indirectly promotes healthy coral recruitment and growth.  Although it was previously known that Caribbean parrotfishes and surgeonfishes also fed off other food sources, such as cyanobacteria, sponges, and even corals themselves, a recent study added fish feces to this list.

The Study

This collaborative effort was co-led by Hannah Rempel, a Ph.D. student from University of Texas Marine Science Institute and Abigail Siebert, a former undergraduate student from California Polytechnic State University. They studied the foraging rates of parrotfishes and surgeonfishes on fish fecal matter. Because they found that over 99% of feces they consumed were from the Brown Chromis (Chromis multilineata), a plankton eating fish, they also observed Brown Chromis feces to see what other reef fish ate them and studied the nutritional value of these feces. The study was conducted in 2019 between June and September, across six dive sites along the western shores of Bonaire.  This research is the first of its kind within the Caribbean and paves the way for continued exploration into the topic.

Fecal pellet. Photo credit: Hannah Rempel

The Results

Throughout this study, researchers documented that almost 85% of the observed fecal pellets were ingested by fish with over 90% consumed by parrotfish and surgeonfishes alone. “Compared to algae, these fecal pellets are rich in a number of important micronutrients. Our findings suggest they may be an important nutritional supplement in the diets of these fishes” stated Rempel. Taking a closer look at the fecal matter itself, researchers found that these pellets had higher values of proteins, carbohydrates, total calories, and important micronutrients when compared to most algae.  Therefore, consuming fecal matter may play an important role in nutrient transfer within the marine environment.

Future Research

Understanding the intricate dynamics within coral reefs provides information management authorities need to safeguard these environments more effectively. These results highlight the importance of the consumption of fecal matter in upcycling micronutrients, although there is still much to be learned about the nutritional content of other food sources, such as algae mats, cyanobacteria, sponges and corals.  Fish feces may play a vital role in nutrient supply within the reef environment, emphasizing the need for further insight into this topic moving forward.

For more information you can find the full report on the DCBD by using the link below.

More info in the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database

 

 

Published in BioNews 53

Date
2022
Data type
Media
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire
Author

Assessing the Relationship between Coastal Currents and Water Quality Indicators on Bonaire: ADCP & CTD approach

Abstract

75% of coral reefs worldwide experience degradation of which 60% is caused by local (anthropogenic) stressors. The human welfare of a small islands like Bonaire strongly depends on coral reef ecosystem services. On a global scale the carbon contribution of Bonaire is neglectable, thus their best course of action is to reduce their local stressors. These local stressors include terrestrial runoff of wastewater, sediment and nutrients to the sea. The Project Resilience Restoration of Nature and Society in the Caribbean Netherlands aims to quantify local stressors by monitoring water quality indicators along the leeward coast of Bonaire. Due to their efforts, the site-specific water quality dataset is expanding. However, research on the nutrient transport between the monitoring sites was lacking. To gain insight on local currents, a boat mounted Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) was deployed along the leeward coast of Bonaire. By sailing transects orthogonal to the shore, the ADCP captured the currents in 3D up till 40 m deep. In addition, temperature, salinity and chlorophyll-a were measured using a CTD. Combined the ADCP and CTD data was used to link currents to water quality indicators. The dominant flow was found to be a longshore at all sites. For Bonaire the current is predominantly northward, yet in the Kralendijk area a southward current occurred closer to shore. Around Klein Bonaire, the flow was counterclockwise. Generally, the water masses closest to shore had the highest temperature, salinity and chlorophyll-a concentrations. Local elevated chlorophyll-a layers were observed either in (1) less saline seawater at the surface near shore or (2) in equal saline seawater at 7m depth further offshore. The former could be attributed to terrestrial runoff (local stressor), whilst the latter may originate from open sea. Surface layers of chlorophyll-a were found in both longshore currents on the main island, implying the transport of land-based effluents to the north and to a lesser extent to the south. Exchange between Bonaire and Klein Bonaire seems limited. These results will provide a foot hold on how terrestrial effluents are (re)distributed around the coastal environment. And, hopefully, contribute to successful management practices and monitoring of local stressors.

Date
2022
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire

SCIENCE & PRACTICE: THE CASE STUDY OF CORAL REEF CONSERVATION & SEWAGE POLLUTION IN CURAÇAO

Abstract.

Much research is being conducted on environmental issues but more knowledge does not necessarily lead to more decisions that take into account such knowledge. A low research uptake can therefore be a threat to ecosystems. An example is research going on about coral reefs and pollution in Curaçao. Coral reefs are vibrant ecosystems and provide many services. They support the economy and protect the coasts. However, they are declining as many hazards threaten them such as sewage that pours out into the sea. Scientific research is being conducted on that topic, but a major issue is the insufficient uptake of research by the policy sphere and the civil society to adopt environmental friendly decisions and behaviours. This master thesis is embedded in the SEALINK project, which aims at understanding how pollution such as sewage impacts the coral reef in Curaçao, and more precisely to its work package on research uptake strategies. This thesis first identifies in the literature the conditions under which research uptake is optimal. Literature highlights three criteria that knowledge should meet in order to have an optimal research uptake: legitimacy, credibility and salience. The salience of the scientific knowledge produced on sewage pollution and its impact on the reef is the focus of this thesis as the legitimacy and credibility of the knowledge produced on sewage are assumed to be met already. Salience refers to the relevance of the knowledge produced for the users of science, such as policy makers. A lack of salience can be the cause of differences in timerames, in the vocabulary used between the scientist and users of knowledge, for instance. The stakeholders that affect sewage in Curaçao, such as the ministry in charge of sewage management, companies that pick up sewage, the tourism industry, or fishermen, were then listed to be interviewed. Interviews of these stakeholders were conducted to explore the behaviours undermining salience of the knowledge produced on the topic at hand. The results show that this knowledge lacks salience because of an operational misfit between the demand for, and supply of knowledge. Recommendations to the local actors and to future researchers on solutions to create more salient knowledge and therefore to have optimal research uptake to protect the reef better, are proposed under the form of science-policy interfaces with an emphasis on knowledge co-production as the main approach to improve the science and practice relationship.  

Date
2022
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University
Geographic location
Curacao
Author

Protecting Bonaire against Coastal Flooding A participatory multi-criteria analysis of coastal adaptation options

Part of the larger The impacts of climate change on Bonaire (2022-present) report available here.
 

Summary

Coastal hazards pose a significant threat to small islands, especially in combination with Sea Level Rise (SLR). Currently, the small Caribbean island of Bonaire is poorly protected against coastal flooding and there is a lack of local knowledge on potential adaptation options and their benefits and trade-offs. This study aims to fill this gap by evaluating how different coastal adaptation options to protect Bonaire are valued, considering economic, social, environmental, and technical criteria. This is evaluated using a participatory Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA) that includes key stakeholders through semistructured interviews and the use of an online questionnaire. A wide variety of coastal adaptation options, ranging from grey infrastructure to softer Nature-based Solutions (NbS), is assessed based on an interdisciplinary set of 10 different criteria, providing a holistic view of the consequences of each option. The results show that NbS, especially mangrove restoration, and spatial zoning measures are overall perceived to be most beneficial. The least favourable adaptation strategies include the construction of any type of seawall and doing nothing. While an MCA does not lead to a final perfect solution, it does provide valuable comparative information about potential future adaptation strategies for Bonaire, which can be used to aid policy makers in the decision-making process. Moving forward, it is important to further strengthen the results of this study by conducting additional quantified analyses, including an evaluation of the spatial suitability of specific measures or combinations of measures. Moreover, to ensure public support for any final policy decisions, regardless of the specific measures that a

Date
2022
Data type
Research report
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire

Een nieuwe wormslak Petaloconchus spec. voor Caribisch Nederland

Coral reef surveys in 2021 at the leeward side of Curacao (Duthc Caribbean) yielded the discoery of a new worm snail for the Atlantic. With the help of photographs taken during elarlier surveys, its presence on Curacao could be traced back to 2014 and on Bonaire to 2019.  The species cannot be Petaloconchus varians because that worm builds reefs in shallow waters.  

Date
2022
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
Curacao
Author

Electronic Supplementary Material 1

This supplementary data belongs to the article:  Hoeksema, B.W., van der Loos, L.M., van Moorsel, G.W.N.M., 2022. Coral diversity matches marine park zonation but not economic value of coral reef sites at St. Eustatius, eastern Caribbean. Journal of Environmental Management.

 

https://www.dcbd.nl/document/coral-diversity-matches-marine-park-zonatio...

Date
2022
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
St. Eustatius

Coral diversity matches marine park zonation but not economic value of coral reef sites at St. Eustatius, eastern Caribbean

A B S T R A C T
Stony corals play a key role in the marine biodiversity of many tropical coastal areas as suppliers of substrate, food and shelter for other reef organisms. Therefore, it is remarkable that coral diversity usually does not play a role in the planning of protected areas in coral reef areas. In the present study we examine how stony coral diversity patterns relate to marine park zonation and the economic value of reefs around St. Eustatius, a small island in the eastern Caribbean, with fisheries and tourism as important sources of income. The marine park contains two no-take reserves. A biodiversity survey was performed at 39 sites, 24 inside the reserves and 15 outside; 22 had a maximum depth >18 m and 17 were shallower. Data on economic value per site were obtained from the literature. Corals were photographed for the verification of identifications made in the field. Coral species richness (n = 49) was highest in the no-take reserves and species composition was mainly affected by maximum depth. No distinct relation is observed between coral diversity and fishery value or total economic value. Based on the outcome of this study we suggest that in future designs of marine park zonation in reef areas, coral diversity should be taken into consideration. This is best served by including reef areas with a continuous depth gradient from shallow flats to deep slopes.

 

 

Supplementary material 

https://www.dcbd.nl/document/electronic-supplementary-material-1

Date
2022
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
St. Eustatius

The effects of resource availability on the growth and distribution of a heterotrophic coral species, Madracis mirabilis, across Curaçao

Abstract

Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse yet threatened ecosystems on the planet. Our understanding of what contributes to a coral reef’s resilience to adapt to global and local threats is not well established. Thriving reefs in close proximity to anthropogenic impacts indicate there are opportunities for improved understanding of the underlying factors that influence the ability of some coral species to withstand environmental stressors and changing oceanographic conditions. Research suggests that resource availability and a coral’s trophic strategy can improve a coral’s tolerance to environmental stressors. Such discoveries have already been made, but the effects of resource availability on heterotrophic coral species have been minimally explored in the Caribbean; a region that has suffered substantial declines in coral health and cover–. Regardless of these declines, Curaçao, an island in the Southern Caribbean, possesses uncharacteristic coral diversity and cover for the region. One of the most abundant species covering the Curaçao reef tract, Madracis mirabilis, is largely heterotrophic in its feeding strategy. The growth and distribution of this species was tracked across 7 sites spanning approximately 40 kilometers along natural and anthropogenic gradients of nutrients in Curaçao. Our findings suggest that the highest growth and percent cover of M, mirabilis, can be found in regions with the highest exposure to anthropogenic nutrient loading. These data provide insights into how some corals may be better adapted to changing environmental conditions and degradations in water quality

Date
2022
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
Master of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
Geographic location
Curacao
Author

New Research Improves on Traditional Reef Survey Techniques

Researchers from University of Amsterdam and CARMBABI Foundation implemented 3-dimensional reef surveying techniques to improve representation of species found within hidden cavities previously overlooked by 2D methods. 12 sites along the coast of Curacao were selected and analyzed. Improved surveying techniques will increase overall understanding of the complexities of these vital ecosystems.

Photo Source: Niklas Kornder

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.  Coral’s beautiful skeletal structure plays an important role in providing reef habitat, nursery and hunting ground while also protecting coastal zones.  Climate change continues to be a significant threat to these areas, making the need for accurate mapping and surveying techniques vital to researchers’ ability to detect change. Traditional mapping techniques use a 2D approach to project surface cover estimates throughout a 3D structure.  Unfortunately, this technique misses hidden habitats, such as overhangs and cavities, which can result in an under representation of biomass estimates.

Photo Source: Eric Mijts

2D versus 3D

New research from the University of Amsterdam and CARMBABI Foundation compared 2D versus 3D survey techniques. Traditionally, organism abundance was calculated as the percentage of projected reef cover.  Previously, this was done by 2D surveys, however a new strategy hopes to improve on this technique through the combination of photograph analysis, diving surveys and computer modeling. Researchers surveyed 12 coral areas on the island of Curacao, then compared 3D benthic community estimates against traditional 2D projected surface cover analysis.

The Results

During this research, scientists found that while using 2D techniques, the relative contribution of organisms which grow vertically (gorgonians and massive sponges) was up to two times and 11 times lower, respectfully, than their contribution to reef biomass.  In addition, hidden areas represented nearly half of all total reef substrate, meaning two thirds of all coralline algae and almost all encrusting sponges are not included within traditional surveying techniques.

Using a variety of different metrics, this research presents adjustments to current monitoring techniques, highlighting the importance of evaluating the ecological contributions of previously disregarded or underrepresented species.  These metric conversions can be used to complement traditional survey techniques to provide improved estimates for biovolume, biomass and element composition (stocks of organic carbon and nitrogen) within coral reef communities.

Implications

Photo source: Francesco Ungar

Understanding the true composition of coral reefs is vital for designing and implementing effective conservation strategies. Coral’s unique ability to create complex habitats is vital to maintaining high community diversity and abundance in shallow water environments.  It is estimated that nearly 75-90% of coral reef ecosystems are hidden under the surface skeleton.  This means that for every m2 that can be seen, there is up to 8m2 of additional habitat underneath. This study suggests that 2D approaches may be useful to produce relatively fast estimates of reef ‘health’ but a 3D approach is needed to understand coral reef’s true composition.

https://www.dcbd.nl/document/implications-2d-versus-3d-surveys-measure-a...

 

Article published in BioNews 47

Date
2021
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten
Author

Is there a future for artificial reefs?

Manmade structures such as seawalls, breakwaters, and jetties are increasing in frequency in marine coastal environments. Overtime, these structures are unintentionally recruiting marine life such as corals, resulting in the formation of artificial reefs. A recent study in the Caribbean has revealed how the biodiversity on these artificial structures compares to natural reefs.

Coral reefs are visually very aesthetic, but above all they play a central role in the ocean. Coral reefs support over 800,000 marine species and supply numerous ecosystem goods and services. Yet sadly, corals are threatened by a combination of global climate change and local human activities such as fishing, shipping and coastal development. Natural recovery is too slow, so active restoration efforts are crucial to prevent the loss of our coral reefs.

CORALS UNDER THREAT

One method of coral reef restoration is the construction of artificial reefs. Artificial reefs come in various forms. Some are designed and deployed specifically to enhance marine life. Others, such as shipwrecks and urban structures –including jetties, seawalls and breakwaters– recruit marine life unintentionally. With increasing coastal development, the frequency of urban structures in the marine environment is increasing, yet marine communities on urban structures receive less attention in scientific research.

This old artificial reef was visibly manmade with smooth basalt blocks cemented together (Source: Naturalis Biodiversity Center)

Filling this gap, a team of researchers explored the biodiversity of urban structures at St. Eustatius, an island of the Caribbean Netherlands. Their findings are published in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. The team consists of Claudia Hill from the University of Groningen and Myrsini Lymperaki from the University of Amsterdam, under the supervision of professor Bert Hoeksema, who is affiliated with Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the University of Groningen.

A NEW HOME FOR MARINE LIFE

The island of St. Eustatius, popularly known as ‘Statia’, is located in the eastern Caribbean and is a special municipality of the Netherlands. The island is steeped in history, having changed hands between numerous European empires and having thrived as a port of trade in the 17th and 18th century. Today St. Eustatius is much quieter, though traces of the past like remnants of ancient piers and jetties remain in the coastal water. “These ancient structures shelter a new home for marine life”, tells Claudia Hill, first author of the article. “With corals and other benthos living on the remains, altogether forming an artificial reef”, she continues.

This natural reef was partly biogenic and located on top of a rough lava underground. It supplied a variety of microhabitats in the form of crevices and overhangs.

 

ARTIFICIAL VERSUS NATURAL REEF

The research team compared the biodiversity on the artificial reef to that of a natural reef nearby. “We found a considerably higher biodiversity on the natural reef, with a wider range of species, a higher density of organisms, and different dominating species”, explains Hill. “We concluded by the greatly differing communities on each reef that artificial reefs can not serve as surrogates for natural reefs.” The researchers highlight, however, that the main cause for biodiversity differences lies in the deviant structural features on the reefs. The natural reef exceeds the artificial reef in microhabitats like crevices and overhangs that are beneficial to the growth of marine life.

What I personally found most surprising, is despite the artificial reef being centuries old, the cover and abundance of reef organisms is still not comparable to that on the natural reef.  But it is important to note, that whilst the artificial reef did not host an identical community to the natural reef, it still serves as a healthy and diverse reef in its own right.

-Claudia Hill

Therefore, there is still a place for artificial reefs in conservation work, as they serve to enhance the marine life of the local area. “Artificial reefs provide a promising outlook for the future of coral reefs, yet a precautionary approach must be taken to prevent any unwanted consequences, such as the invasion of non-native species.”

 

MORE INFORMATION

Text: Claudia Hill, University of GroningenNaturalis Biodiversity Center
Photos: Naturalis Biodiversity Center

 

https://www.dcbd.nl/document/centuries-old-manmade-reef-caribbean-does-n...

 

Article published in BioNews 45

Date
2021
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
St. Eustatius
Author