Bonaire has long been considered to have amongst the healthiest reefs of the Caribbean. However, at the 2002 Annual Meeting of Pew Fellows for Marine Conservation in Bonaire, several scientists with a long history of research on Bonaire’s coral reefs, expressed concern over the future of the island’s reefs. Specifically, they identified the decline in large predatory fish such as groupers as a noticeable change during the past decade. They suspected that this change resulted from increased fishing pressure on Bonaire’s reefs. They also suggested the Bonaire authorities take action to protect the reef-fish stocks. In response to those concerns, officials of the Bonaire Marine Park consulted with scientists and fishermen on Bonaire to explore the possibility of establishing fish protected areas (FPAs), as a way to protect the reef fish stocks. If FPAs improve both fish stocks and the condition of the coral reef, all stakeholders will profit. If fish stocks increased significantly in FPAs, a “spill over” of these fish to adjacent fished areas would be expected. Also, fish that perform important ecological functions could improve the quality of the coral reef ecosystem. Therefore, areas protected from fishing should have healthier coral reefs, which would also improve the island’s valuable ecotourism businesses. The Pew Fellows program funded a research project designed to identify potential FPAs. The Bonaire Marine Park authority, in consultation with the local fishing community would determine the location and size of the FPAs. To monitor the effects of fish protection areas so fishing impacts can be isolated from other factors (such as natural changes, shore-based impacts or effects of scuba divers), an equal number of similar reef sites were selected for study, with half closed to fishing while half remaining open (as “control” reefs). This report reviews the status and recent trends of coral reefs in the Caribbean and Bonaire. It identifies the key features of healthy reefs and how Bonaire’s reefs compares with those elsewhere in the Caribbean. The seven chapters go into scientific detail on factors contributing to the condition of Bonaire’s reefs as of March and April 2003. Special focus will be on factors that threaten reef health or are critical to reef resilience such as seaweed overgrowth, nutrient inputs from land and the ecology of juvenile corals. The report concludes with chapters on the socioeconomic effects of Bonaire’s coral reefs on the fishing and diving industries that depend on them.
Summary Results 2003: The Biological Status of the Coral Reefs of Bonaire & Socioeconomic Implications
In March and April of 2003, teams of researchers studied the coral reefs of Bonaire to establish the baseline conditions that currently exist and against which trends can be determined and future changes from fish protection areas be assessed. Six study sites were chosen with advice from the Bonaire Marine Park. They represent a range of comparable reefs minimally affected by the 1999 Hurricane Lenny. The sites selected for this study were: Windsock, Plaza, Forest on Klein Bonaire, Scientifico, Barcadera and Karpata (Fig. 0.4). When feasible, parallel studies were conducted at 5 and 10 m depths, however, only the latter depth had fully developed reefs at all sites. The study was designed to quantify the patterns of abundance of the dominant reef organisms as well as to study the processes that control their abundances or threaten their stability. This was done to establish a baseline and to determine if significant differences exist among any of the study sites that would make them a poor choice as a FPA. We also examined some socioeconomic factors related to fishing and scuba diving activities if FPAs are established in Bonaire.