Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata) was once one of the most common corals in the Caribbean. This stony coral is easy to identify as its unique shape resembles the horns of an elk. This coral is one of the most important reef building species and it is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List meaning it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
Acropora corals are vital to the health of the reef system and their loss has a large negative effect on biodiversity, fish biomass and coastal protection. These are also some of the fastest growing corals with their branches growing at a rate of up to 12cm (5in) per year.
As these Acropora corals are of such importance to St. Maarten’s reef both Elkhorn Corals and Staghorn Corals are the focus of the Coral Restoration Project by the Nature Foundation. Learn more about Coral Restoration.
Throughout the Caribbean a disease caused the death of 97% of Elkhorn Corals in the 1980s, and while the surviving 3% seemed to be less susceptible to coral disease other factors have caused a continuing decline. For example Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the remaining Elkhorn Corals in St. Maarten. In the photo below you can see that this coral head had several branches broken off due to extreme water movement during the storm.
What can you do to help?
One of the biggest threats to coral reefs in St. Maarten is poor water quality and pollution. You can easily ensure that you and your family are not contributing to these issues by following the steps below:
- Always ensure that septic tanks are pumped before they overflow into the environment causing contamination!
- Never let chemicals run off into the Simpson Bay Lagoon or into the Ocean.
- Limit single-use Plastics in your home, if you must use products with single-use plastic be sure to dispose of them properly and never allow them to enter the environment.
- Use reef-safe sunscreens. Zinc based products are safe for your skin and the ocean!