The Nature Foundation St Maarten once again scientifically monitored the state of the country’s coral reefs to determine coral reef changes over the years. Each year reef monitoring is conducted according to the GCRMN-Caribbean scientific monitoring methods in order to determine the health, composition and state of our coral reefs. The Foundation is worried about the current state of the reefs surrounding St Maarten, specifically with regards to large amounts of waste water which end up in our ocean and the new coral disease; Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. Both issues are threatening the existence and recovery of St Maarten’s coral reefs. Additional protection of coral reefs, coral restoration and proper waste water treatment is needed on St Maarten in order to ensure coral reef existence in the future.
“Currently we have seen major deterioration of our coral reefs; especially the new disease has killed many large coral colonies and turned healthy reefs into dead corals covered in algae. Furthermore the ongoing flow of waste water into our ocean makes corals prone and worsens the state of our reefs as algae blooms due to the increase of nutrients coming from waste water and sewage, overgrowing the habitat of fish; coral reefs. In the coming months the data will be analyzed and compared to previous years to determine the scope of the coral reef decline on Sint Maarten” explained Nature Foundations Research Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
The Nature Foundation surveyed mainly sites in the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area and other important sites around the island. All measurements are conducted along a transect line and repeated five times on one dive site. First, abundance and biomass of all fish species is determined, secondly the cover of reef organisms (corals) are analyzed based on photo quadrats made during the dives and photo quadrats are assessed for coral health. Monitoring is also done looking for coral recruitments (juvenile corals) and algae coverage and height. Lastly, invertebrate species (sea urchins, sea cucumbers, lobster and conch) are counted and water quality is measured. These measurements will help us to better understand our reefs and to determine if our reefs are doing well.
“Coral reefs are critical to the economy of the island. Studies conducted by the Nature Foundation has shown that reefs contribute about USD$50 million to our economy annually so it is critical that we know their status and their ecological function after experiencing the strongest hurricanes on record and the most destructive coral disease; Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease” added Nature Foundation’s Manager Tadzio Bervoets..
Picture 1: Nature Foundation diver performing fish species and abundance survey using the GCRMN method (photo credit Ray Simon-Lynch)
Picture 2: A green sea turtle is watching the reef monitoring skills of the Nature Foundation staff (photo credit Mary Grace Duethman)