monitoring

Spatial & Temporal monitoring of Bonaire’s near-shore water quality

Abstract Although Bonaire’s waters harbours one of the richest reefs of the Caribbean, it has not evaded the unprecedented global decline of these unique and precious systems. Recent research suggests a significant impact of local stressors on coral reef functioning. Future intensification of Bonaire's coastal activities may increase run-off, sedimentation, and eutrophication, which, potentially could induce detrimental changes to the system. However, identifying adverse effects of for example nutrient run-off on coral reefs in field conditions remains challenging. Nevertheless, a new local monitoring infrastructure may help to evaluate the risks posed by nutrient pollution by detecting the frequency and origin of harmful concentrations. We aim to create an integrated seawater quality management plan on Bonaire. For this, we measured levels and spatiotemporal variation of dissolved inorganic nutrients (NH4+, NO2-, NO3-, PO43-) and physiochemical water quality parameters (chlorophyll-a and turbidity).

Preliminary data (NOV 2021-Feb 2023) are presented of this ongoing 4-year monitoring project. Spatial water quality data from thirty-seven study sites collected from November 22nd to December 1st (2021) at 5 and 10m depth on the reef slope indicated that DIN concentration at site B12 (marina) and at the sites located in the area North of Kralendijk exceeded the 1μM threshold value set for the phase shift from coral to macroalgae-dominated coral reefs. Furthermore, geographical differences between in nutrient concentrations and relative abundance of nutrient species were found. Ammonium dominated the DIN pool in the areas Kralendijk and North of Kralendijk, whereas in the northern part of Bonaire DIN pool predominantly comprised of nitrate.

The temporal monitoring showed mean chlorophyll-a concentrations across Bonaire’s west coast approached the upper range of the safe threshold value (0.3 μg/L), indicating that Bonaire’s reefs are experiencing a chronic state of eutrophication. The data presented here of short-time span and should be considered as preliminary results. The outcome of this multi-year project, however, will provide more thorough insight spatiotemporal variation in nutrient and physiochemical water quality parameters. This data will help build scientific knowledge into both sources and resilience to external nutrient loading of coral reef ecosystems. Understanding this heterogeneity in local water quality conditions, will aid effective management, help restore reef resilience, and increase our chances of mitigating the global decline in coastal reef systems.

 

For full report or more information,  please contact erik.meesters@wur.nl or gulsah.dogruer@wur.nl

Date
2022
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
Wageningen Marine Research Student Report
Geographic location
Bonaire
Author

STENAPA’s protection of Caribbean Sea turtles

Each year, hawksbill and green turtles, and sometimes even leatherback turtles, come to the beaches of Statia to lay their eggs. New protocols, developed by two research students from Van Hall Larenstein University, will aid in STENAPA’s ability to accurately and safely track sea turtle beach activity and hatchling success in the future.

Three different types of turtles can be found on the beaches and in the surrounding waters of St. Eustatius: the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), and leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). The hawksbill and green turtle are frequent visitors of the waters of Statia and can be encountered during snorkeling or diving. Every year, nesting hawksbill and green turtles can be found on the beaches. A less frequent visitor is the leatherback turtle. They can only be spotted while nesting since the leatherback is a deep-sea species. Occasionally, a nest of a Leatherback turtle can be found on St. Eustatius.

 

Hawksbill sea turtle. Photo credit: Naturepics: Y.+T. Kühnast

Monitoring

STENAPA monitors the beaches, both morning and night, to identify new nests and track hatching success. The details and information from these beach patrols are collected by filling in data sheets. Those data sheets can be used internationally for the purpose of having comparable data.  Annemieke Borsch and Louise Kramár, two students from Van Hall Larenstein University, recently produced protocols as part of an explanatory report in cooperation and guidance from STENAPA. These protocols cover morning patrol, night patrol and next excavation while the whole report can be used as a guide for how to perform certain tasks in a correct, safe and careful way during patrols.

Importance of data collection

Data collection on turtles is important because it gives information on the status of the species. Baseline information can become important when a new factor comes into play, to see what the effect of the factor is. Besides this, the data collection gives insight in the population trends, if it is declining or growing. It also makes it possible to detect diseases or parasites in a population in an early state. The data collection is also important to get to know the species better, for example habitat, food source and breeding grounds, to protect these necessary factors for the turtles.

Green sea turtle. Photo credit: Naturepics: Y.+T. Kühnast

Why turtles need protection

The green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles are on the IUCN red list of endangered species. The green turtle is listed as ‘’endangered’’ and the hawksbill and leatherback turtles are listed as ‘’critically endangered’’. Sea turtles need protection because they are keystone species. This means, that they are an important part of the marine environment and have an influence on the species living among them. Hawksbill turtles live close to the coral reefs, where they feed on sponges which compete with corals for space. Green turtles are important because they feed on seagrass, which keeps the seagrass ecosystem healthy meaning it can take up more carbon and sustain more species this way. Leatherback turtles are known to control the number of jellyfish in the oceans. Besides the ecological benefits, the turtles are also important for coastal communities, since many people rely on the incomes that are being provided by turtle watching and diving. Some indigenous communities see turtles as a part of their culture and there is said that seeing a turtle in the wild has psychological and emotional benefits.

How to support

There are several ways to contribute to the conservation of sea turtles on Statia. If you are interested in helping, STENAPA offers both part- and full-time volunteering programs (for more information contact volunteer@statiapark.org and/or check out https://www.statiapark.org/vacancies-turtle-program/). Together with the National Parks Staff you can take part in the in-water surveys conducted throughout the Marine Park. If scuba diving is not possible, staff are happy to provide training for beach patrols so that you would be able to assist in the monitoring of nesting turtles on the beaches. Since the turtles are protected, people are not allowed to disturb them. This is the reason why you should contact STENAPA if you want to be involved and not go looking for turtles by yourself.

STENAPA needs volunteers especially for the patrols since it is necessary to be done a few times a week during nesting season. Their wish is for the (local) volunteers to be able to patrol as independently as possible with the help from instructions and the protocols guiding them.

 

More information

To learn more about STENAPA and the turtle species on St. Eustatius you can go to the website: www.statiapark.org. If you are interested in protocols about morning and night patrols and the nest-excavations, send your request to STENAPA.

 

Published in BioNews 54

Date
2022
Data type
Media
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
St. Eustatius
Author

BirdsCaribbean Landbird Monitoring Workshop

Nederlands, Papiamento and Papiamentu below.

 

The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) recently supported the attendance of representatives from the Protected Area Management Organizations of Aruba (Fundacion Parke Nacional Aruba), Bonaire (STINAPA), Saba (Saba Conservation Foundation) and Sint Maarten (the Nature Foundation) to a five-day BirdsCaribbean Landbird Monitoring Workshop in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic where participants were trained in increasing the capability to monitor landbirds in the wider-Caribbean Region.

Monitoring the health of landbird populations is vitally important to understand changes in population sizes and distributions of species in response to environmental changes and threats, such as from climate change, pollution, invasive species, development, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and more. Through the monitoring of the health of landbird populations in the Dutch Caribbean, conservation managers will be better able to tell how these species, and the nature areas in which they live, are doing. The data they gather will help decision-makers to plan conservation and management actions to ensure the Dutch Caribbean’s amazing birds will be around for our children and grandchildren to see and enjoy.

We are grateful to Birds Caribbean for organizing this Training of Trainers workshop. With the skills learned during this workshop we will be able to increase the way we protect our nature areas on land which are some of the most threatened spaces on our islands,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, Director of the DCNA.

The participation of qualified local conservationists to the workshop was made possible through the support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Fund, Environment and Climate Change Canada, US Forest Service International Programs, Optics for the Tropics, and the DCNA.

From left to right: Kai Wulf, Director at the Saba Conservation Foundation; Caren Eckrich, Biologist at STINAPA Bonaire; Melanie Meijer Zu Schlochtern, Manager of the St. Maarten Nature Foundation; Tadzio Bervoets, Director Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance; Giancarlo Nunes, Conservation Manager Aruba National Parks Foundation; Jilly Sarpong, Terrestrial Park Ranger STINAPA Bonaire at the BirdsCaribbean Terrestrial Bird Monitoring Workshop in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic (Credit: Giselle Dean, Bahamas National Trust- all rights reserved.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nederlands

BirdsCaribbean landvogel monitoring workshop

De Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) maakte onlangs de deelname van vertegenwoordigers van de beheerorganisaties van beschermde natuurgebieden op Aruba (Fundacion Parke Nacional Aruba), Bonaire (STINAPA), Saba (Saba Conservation Foundation) en Sint Maarten (the Nature Foundation) mede mogelijk aan een vijfdaagse BirdsCaribbean Landvogel Monitoring Workshop in Jarabacoa, Dominicaanse Republiek. Tijdens de workshop werden de deelnemers getraind in het monitoren van landvogels in de Caribische regio.

Het monitoren van de gezondheid van landvogelpopulaties is van groot belang om inzicht te krijgen in veranderingen in populatiegroottes en verspreiding van soorten als reactie op veranderingen en bedreigingen van de natuur en milieu, zoals klimaatverandering, vervuiling, invasieve soorten, ontwikkeling, orkanen, vulkaanuitbarstingen en meer. Door het monitoren van de gezondheid van landvogelpopulaties in het Caribisch deel van het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden kunnen natuurbeheerders beter zien hoe het met deze soorten en de natuurgebieden waarin ze leven, gaat. De verzamelde gegevens helpen besluitvormers bij het plannen van instandhoudings- en beheeracties.  Zodat ook onze kinderen en kleinkinderen later kunnen genieten van de prachtige vogels in het Nederlands Caribisch gebied.

“We zijn BirdsCaribbean dankbaar voor het organiseren van deze workshop. Met de nieuwe vaardigheden die we tijdens deze workshop hebben geleerd, kunnen we onze natuurgebieden op het land beter beschermen, die een van de meest bedreigde gebieden op onze eilanden zijn ”, aldus Tadzio Bervoets, directeur van de DCNA.

 

De deelname van gekwalificeerde lokale natuurbeschermers aan de workshop werd mogelijk gemaakt door de steun van het US Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Fund, Environment and Climate Change Canada, US Forest Service International Programs, Optics for the Tropics en de DCNA.

Van links naar rechts: Kai Wulf, directeur van de Saba Conservation Foundation; Caren Eckrich, Bioloog bij STINAPA Bonaire; Melanie Meijer Zu Schlochtern, Manager Nature Foundation St. Maarten; Tadzio Bervoets, directeur DCNA; Giancarlo Nunes, Conservation Manager Fundacion Parke Nacional Aruba; Jilly Sarpong, Terrestrial Park Ranger STINAPA Bonaire bij de BirdsCaribbean Landbird Monitoring Workshop in Jarabacoa, Dominicaanse Republiek (Credit: Giselle Dean, Bahamas National Trust- alle rechten voorbehouden)

 

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Papiamentu

Tayer di Para Terestre

Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance ta Sostené Presensia di Konservashonistanan di Áreanan Protehá na un Tayer di Para Terestre.

Resientemente Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) a sostené presensia di representantenan di organisashonnan di maneho di Área Protehá di Aruba (Fundacion Parke Nacional Aruba), Boneiru (STINAPA), Saba (Saba Conservation Foundation) i St. Maarten (the Nature Foundation) na un tayer di trabou di BirdsCaribbean tokante vigilansia di paranan terestre na Jarabacoa, Repúblika Dominikana. E partisipantenan a risibí training di oumentá kapasidat pa vigilá para terestre den e region amplio di Karibe.

Vigilansia di e salú di e populashon di paranan terestre ta di vital importansia pa komprendé e kambionan den grandura di populashon i distribushon di espesie, komo reakshon riba kambionan ambiental i menasanan manera kambio di klima, polushon, espesienan invasivo, desaroyo, orkan, erupshon di volkan i mas. Vigilando e salú di e populashon di paranan terestre den Karibe Hulandes, managernan di konservashon lo por haña un mihó bista riba kon ta bayendo ku e espesienan akí i ku e área di naturalesa kaminda nan ta biba. E datonan ku nan kompilá lo yuda e tumadónan di desishon pa plania akshonnan di konservashon i maneho pa sigurá ku e paranan fasinante di Karibe Hulandes lo ta presente pa nos yunan i nietunan mira i disfrutá di nan.

Nos ta agradesido na Birds Caribbean pa a organisá e tayer di Training di e Trainer. Ku e abilidat ku a siña durante e tayer nos lo oumentá e manera ku nos ta protehá nos áreanan di naturalesa terestre ku ta algun di e espasionan mas menasá riba nos islanan,” Tadzio Bervoets, direktor di DCNA a komentá.

E partisipashon di konservashonistanan lokal kalifiká na e tayer di trabou a bira posibel ku sosten di ‘the US Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Fund’, ‘Environment and Climate Change Canada’, ‘US Forest Service International Programs, Optics for the Tropics’, i DCNA.

Di man robes pa man drechi: Kai Wulf, Direktor di Saba Conservation Foundation; Karen Eckrich, Biólogo di STINAPA Bonaire; Melanie Meijer Zu Schlochtern, Manager di St. Maarten Nature Foundation; Tadzio Bervoets, Direktor Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance; Giancarlo Nunes, Conservation Manager Aruba National Parks Foundation; Jilly Sarpong, Terrestrial Park Ranger STINAPA Bonaire; na e tayer di “the BirdsCaribbean Terrestrial Bird Monitoring Workshop“ na Jarabacoa, Repúblika Dominikana (Fuente di pòrtrèt: Giselle Dean, Bahamas National Trust).

 

 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Papiamento

Tayer di Parha Terestre di BirdsCaribbean

 

Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) recientemente a apoya asistencia di representantenan di e Organisacionnan di Maneho di Area Proteha di Aruba (Fundacion Parke Nacional Aruba), Boneiro (STINAPA), Saba (Saba Conservation Foundation) y Sint Maarten (The Nature Foundation) na un workshop di monitoreo di parha terestre di BirdsCaribbean di cinco dia na Jarabacoa, Republica Dominicana, na unda a capacita e participantenan pa aumenta capacidad di monitorea parha terestre den Region di Gran Caribe.

Monitoreo di salud di e poblacionnan di parha terestre ta di vital importancia pa compronde e cambionan den tamaño di e poblacionnan y distribucion di e especienan como reaccion na e cambionan y menasanan ambiental, manera cambio climatico, contaminacion, especienan invasor, desaroyo, horcan, erupcionan di  volcan y mas. Pa medio di monitoreo di salud di e poblacionnan di parha terestre den Caribe Hulandes, e administradornan di conservacion lo ta miho prepara pa conta tocante e especienan aki y e areanan natural den cua nan ta biba. E datonan cu nan compila lo yuda e personanan cu ta responsabel pa tuma decision pa planifica e accionnan di conservacion y maneho pa garantisa cu e parhanan increibel aki den Caribe Hulandes lo t’ey pa nos yiunan y nietonan por mira y disfruta di nan.

 

Nos ta gradici Birds Caribbean pa a organisa e tayer aki di Capacitacion di e Capacitadornan. Cu e habilidadnan siña durante e tayer aki, nos por aumenta e forma cu nos ta proteha nos areanan natural riba tera, cu ta  algun di e espacionan mas menasa na nos islanan”, Tadzio Bervoets, Director di Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, a comenta.

Participacion di conservacionistanan local califica na e taller tabata posible danki na apoyo di US Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Bird Conservation Act Fund,  Environment and Climate Change Canada, US Forest Service International Programs, Optics for the Tropics, y DCNA.

Di robes pa drechi: Kai Wulf, Director di Saba Conservation Foundation; Karen Eckrich, biologa na STINAPA Boneiro; Melanie Meijer Zu Schlochtern, Gerente di St. Maarten Nature Foundation; Tadzio Bervoets, Director di Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance; Giancarlo Nunes, Gerente di Conservacion di Aruba National Parks Foundation; Jilly Sarpong, ranger di Terrestrial Park STINAPA Boneiro na e Tayer di Monitoreo di Parha Terestre di BirdsCaribbean na Jarabacoa, Republica Dominicana (Potret:Giselle Dean, Bahamas National Trust).

 

 

 

 

Published in BioNews 51

Date
2022
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Saba
Saba bank
St. Maarten
Author

Sea Turtle Conservation on Bonaire in 2020

Bonaire might have been on lockdown in 2020, but that didn’t keep Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire from working hard.  Their recently published annual report highlights the latest news concerning sea turtle conservation for the island.  Between monitoring resident populations, nests and deploying a satellite tag, 2020 was a busy year for STCB.

Image from STCB Annual Report

Monitoring

Bonaire’s resident turtle population and nesting turtles are monitored through transect-count surveys and nest patrols. Between the months of May and December, volunteers and staff patrolled the beaches looking for new activities. Once marked, these nests were kept under surveillance and excavated after hatching to calculate hatching success. In addition, 108 in water surveys were conducted, allowing STCB to estimate local populations of 555 green and 70 hawksbill turtles.

Capture-Tag-Recapture

Long-term data on specific turtles is gathered through the capture-tag-recapture project.  Through this effort, recaptured turtles are measured, weighed and checked for signs of fibropapillomatosis to track growth rates and the overall health of the population.  Additional DNA samples provide key insight to the distribution of turtle populations throughout the Caribbean. Using data collected over the past 16 years, STCB has been able to show a slight increase in green turtle populations within Lac Bay.  So far, over 3,500 turtles have been tagged which will continue to provide important information for years to come.

Satellite Tags

Turtles are migratory by nature, spending much of their life in transit. Although there is still much to be learned about their behavior, satellite tracking is giving researchers a never-before-seen glimpse of these routes.  Understanding their migration routes and identifying areas of foraging and nesting will provide important information shaping conservation efforts in the future. STCB has been placing satellite trackers on turtles since 2003.  In 2020, the 26th tracker was placed on “Flappie”, who once tagged, traveled to Aruba before continuing on to the Miskito Cays off the coast of Nicaragua.

Hawksbill turtle. Photo credit: © Marion Haarsma

Sea turtles face a barrage of threats, from being caught as bycatch to degraded habitats from coastal development and climate change.   Conservation groups such as STCB are instrumental for increasing local awareness and driving conservation efforts forward.

Learn more about their important work by visiting STCB’s website (www.bonaireturtles.org) or reading the full annual report, see DCBD link below.

 

https://www.dcbd.nl/sites/default/files/documents/STCB-Year-Report-2020-...

 

Article published in BioNews 45

Date
2021
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire
Author

Coral Monitoring Finds Annual Coral Bleaching on Bonaire

A recent report released by STINAPA notes the occurrence of coral bleaching on Bonaire between 2016 and 2020.  During this study, coral bleaching was detected every year, highlighting the need for continuous monitoring and rigorous conservation measures to build resilience moving forward.

The beautiful corals of Bonaire are loved for their stunning array of colors, but what many don’t realize is that these colors are not from the coral themselves, but small microscopic alga, referred to as zooxanthellae or symbiodinium, living within them.  This alga and coral have a symbiotic relationship, where the zooxanthellae provide nutrients to the coral in exchange for protection and habitat within the coral’s skeletal structure.  Under normal conditions, this relationship is mutually beneficially, however, if the zooxanthellae become toxic, the coral can evict their partner, leaving behind its colorless abode.

Photo credit: Kai Wulf

Climate  Change

One of the many negative effects of climate change is a slow but steady increase in average Sea Surface Temperatures (SST).  While the exact causes and mechanisms of coral bleaching are still being investigated, one theory that has strong support hypothesizes that bleaching is triggered by the production of excessive abnormal oxygen molecules.  As SSTs rise above normal (even if just for just a few weeks), the zooxanthellae are unable to effectively photosynthesize and begin to produce reactive oxygen which can damage coral tissue.  As a defensive response, the coral sometimes ejects the alga, leaving its white skeletal structure empty giving it the appearance of being “bleached”.

If enough corals eject enough zooxanthellae, this becomes known as a mass coral bleaching event. These events can last anywhere from days to months and, in extreme events, even years. Unfortunately, the coupling of worsening water conditions due to human activity (pollution, overfishing and uncontrolled land development) and stressors due to climate change have led to an increase in the frequency and duration of mass coral bleaching events.  Without the zooxanthellae producing energy, corals are forced to rely on stored energy reserves and feeding directly on zooplankton. Bleaching events can be dangerous for corals even if they do not result in direct mortality as this can leave them more susceptible to disease, decreases coral spawning success and can lead to long term changes within the community composition.

 

Photo credit: Kai Wulf

Building Resilience

Luckily, not all coral, or zooxanthellae, are the same. In fact, new research has uncovered differences between corals which host a single type of zooxanthellae versus those with a more diverse array, where some may be more tolerable to temperature shifts than others.  A new theory, known as the Adaptive Bleaching Hypotheses, even states that following bleaching events, the make up of zooxanthellae may shift within corals, allowing new, more resilient combinations of zooxanthellae to move in. This creates the opportunity for coral communities to build resilience after particularly destructive years.

Bonaire

Although global bleaching events have been happening regularly since the late 1990s, Bonaire suffered its first significant coral lost due to bleaching in 2010.  During this episode, Bonaire registered nearly 10% coral mortality among populations at 10m depth.  Since 2016, some degree of coral damage, ranging from paling to full bleaching, has occurred on Bonaire’s reefs every year.  Already, even without the official survey for 2021 being completed, divers have reported bleaching at depths of 35m and deeper.

A new report, published by STINAPA, highlights the impact coral bleaching has had within the Bonaire National Marine Park between 2016 and 2020.  Each year, after SST began to drop (usually between November and December), STINAPA surveys ten sites within the park, noting signs of bleaching. These sites included eight locations along the leeward side of the island and two off the coast of Klein Bonaire, Figure 1.  At each location, quadrants were photographed at depths of 10 and 25m, with additional photographs taken at 5m for four sites starting in 2017.

Trouble in the Deep

Over this four-year study, coral bleaching was detected within the photographed quadrants every year, affecting 26% of corals in 2016, 55% in 2017, 9% in 2018, 24% in 2019 and 61% in 2020.  It should be noted that methodology changes in 2018 may have contributed to an underrepresentation of coral bleaching.

STINAPA found that the corals most susceptible to bleaching are those found at deeper depths. Interestingly, when comparing the three depths, there were significant bleaching differences between 25 and 10m, but no significant differences between 10 and 5m.

STINAPA also found that bleaching trends from 2020 indicate that certain species of coral are at higher risk of bleaching than others.  For example, corals such as Orbicella and Agaricia (Boulder, Mountainous star and Lettuce corals) were more often bleached, yet Madracis species (Yellow pencil and Ten-rayed star corals) appear to be more resilient.

Map of the 10 coral bleaching survey sites on the leeward coast of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire. (STINAPA, 2021)

The Future

Protecting these corals will require action at all levels.  Locally, the government can help build resilience through more effective fishery management, wastewater treatment and promote responsible coastal development and sustainable tourism.  Individually we can all help by minimizing our contribution to pollution, avoiding direct contact with the reef while swimming or diving and wearing reef safe sunscreens in the water.

Together, by promoting a nature first attitude towards conservation, we can help build stronger more resilient environments to combat the threats of climate change moving forward.

 

https://www.dcbd.nl/document/coral-bleaching-bonaire-national-marine-par...

 

Article published in BioNews 44

Date
2021
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire
Author

Research Expedition for Lesser Antillean Sperm Whales

The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and World Wide Fund for Nature Netherlands (WWF-NL) are proud to support Caribbean Cetacean Society’s (CCS) new “Ti Whale An Nou” Project. This project will provide key insight which will be used to estimate population sizes, distribution, movements and social structure of sperm whales in the Lesser Antilles between the islands of Grenada and Anguilla, including the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary, around Saba, Saba Bank, St. Maarten and St. Eustatius. These results will be valuable for improving marine mammal protection in the Wider Caribbean region.

Caribbean Hot Spot

Humpback whale calf
Photo credit: Tomas Kotouc

There are over 33 species of cetaceans (marine mammals) which can be found within the Caribbean region, representing over a third of the total global population. Marine mammals can be a valuable indicator for the overall health of oceans and help maintain balance within the very complex marine environment. As predators, they serve to thin out weak or injured fish, and as prey they provide an important food source for other species. They serve as a carbon pump, relocating nutrients ingested near the surface as nitrogen-rich fecal matter which settles along the ocean floor. This fecal matter is an important food source for phytoplankton, small animals that consume CO2 and convert into oxygen. In this way, marine mammals contribute in our fight against effects of climate change. Furthermore, when marine mammals die, their bodies sink bringing important nutrients to even the deepest parts of the ocean. Lastly, these species can have great economic impact, serving to improve local fish stock while also being a significant tourist driver.

 

Locally Driven Study

Unfortunately, still much is unknown about the marine mammals of the Caribbean. Luckily, studies such as the newly announced Caribbean Cetaceans Society’s (CCS) “Ti Whale An Nou” help fill in these knowledge gaps. This study will work to increase international collaboration and involvement of local Caribbean organizations (such as the DCNA and Saba Conservation Foundation), improving understanding and building capacity for years to come. This project builds off previous studies conducted in 2016 by the Dominica Sperm Whale Project and 2019/2020 by Dalhousie University. This research mission has received great support by not only DCNA and WWF-NL, but from Corail Caraibes, Orange, the EDF Group Foundation, Animal Wellfare Institute, and Parc Naturel Régional de la Martinique as well.

Sperm whale.  Photo credit: Alexis Rosenfeld

 

Ti Whale An Nou

“Ti Whale An Nou” is Haitian creole for “Our Little Whales” and serves as a reminder of how interlinked humans are to the ocean. The study will take place over six expeditions, focused on three main zones reaching between Anguilla and Granada. The goal is to improve understanding of the diversity, distribution and relative densities of marine mammal species, specifically sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) in the Lesser Antilles. This project will also provide new acoustic data to help improve the ability to identify species through an artificial intelligence system. Lastly, this project will provide new insight into the role of environmental variables in the diversity and distribution of marine mammals throughout the West Indies.

 

Importance of cooperation

As experts continue to learn more about these complex and dynamic areas, more impactful conservation strategies can be implemented. Transboundary species, especially those with migration routes as long reaching as whales, dolphins and sharks, require a network which crosses international borders. One such example is the Yarari Marine Mammal and Sanctuary, which helps to create safe passage for marine mammals and sharks throughout the waters of the Caribbean Netherlands. Through collaborative efforts, driven at the local level, the Caribbean can serve as a leader in international cooperation for marine conservation.

Report your Sightings

Have you (ever) observed whales in the Caribbean? Every sighting can provide useful data for researchers and provides critical information needed to protect these species. Help us by reporting your (old) nature sightings and photos on the website Observation.org or download the free app (iPhone (iObs) & Android (ObsMapp)). These tools are available in over 40 languages and can be used by biologists and citizens and tourists alike.

More information

To find out more, visit the project’s website (https://www.ccs-ngo.com/ti-whale-an-nou-2021). Outcomes of this expedition will be made available in Obsenmer, FlukeBook, Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database, Observation.org and Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

 

Article published in BioNews 44.

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

Hurricane-induced population decrease in a Critically Endangered long-lived reptile

ABSTRACT

Catastrophic events, like hurricanes, bring lethal conditions that can have population-altering effects. The threatened Caribbean dry forest occurs in a region known for its high-intensity hurricane seasons and high species endemism, highlighting the necessity to better understand hurricane impacts as fragmentation and clearing of natural habitat continues. However, such studies remain rare, and for reptiles are mostly restricted to Anolis. Here we used single-season occupancy modeling to infer the impact of the intense 2017 Atlantic hurricane season on the critically endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana, Iguana delicatissima. We surveyed 30 transects across eight habitats on St. Eustatius during 2017-2019, which resulted in 344 individual surveys and 98 iguana observations. Analyses of abundance and site occupancy indicated both measures for 2018 and 2019 were strongly reduced compared to the pre-hurricane 2017 state. Iguanas at higher elevations were affected more profoundly, likely due to higher wind speeds, tree damage and extensive defoliation. Overall, our results indicate a decrease in population estimates (23.3-26.5%) and abundance (22-23.8%) for 2018 and 2019, and a 75% reduction in the number of opportunistic sightings of tagged iguanas between 2017-2018. As only small and isolated I. delicatissima populations remain, our study further demonstrates their vulnerability to stochastic events. Considering the frequency and intensity of hurricanes are projected to increase, our results stress the urgent need for population-increasing conservation actions in order to secure the long-term survival of I. delicatissima throughout its range.

Date
2021
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
St. Eustatius