Statia’s seagrass swept away by two hurricanes

From left: Director of Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) Johan Stapel, marine researcher of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research NIOZ Rebecca James and CNSI’s Hannah Madden.

ST. EUSTATIUS–Seagrasses in the shallow coastal waters of St. Eustatius perform a vital role in the island’s marine ecosystems; however, visitors to the Science Café have learned that the destructive sea currents caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria have dealt a great blow to the native seagrass of Statia and possibly to its future.

“We used to have two species of seagrass on Statia – the native Syringodium and the invasive Halophila,” announced marine researcher of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research NIOZ Rebecca James. “Whereas Halophila has made a comeback, we have no way of knowing if Syringodium will return.”

For the last 12 months, James has dived and snorkelled in the waters around Statia, Bonaire and St. Maarten. Her scientific curiosity for these marine meadows is not misplaced.

“Seagrass is of particular value to the aquatic health of life beneath Statia’s waters,” she told her audience. “They protect the shoreline by attenuating strong waves, as well as stabilizing sediment. This prevents erosion. They also provide food for hundreds of species including green turtles, fish, sea urchins and crabs.”

Turtles seem to be particularly fond of Syringodium. “They will eat the invasive seagrass, but prefer the native variety since their thin leaves are full of nutrients,” said James.

However, in the past, the native seagrass was outcompeted by the invasive Halophila that arrived in the Caribbean about 12 years ago. This resilient seagrass originates from the Red Sea and is believed to have been transported through international shipping lanes.

James is uncertain as to whether the native seagrass will return to Statia. Director of Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) Johan Stapel and seagrass expert is equally unsure.

“Our native seagrass clearly survived the destructive Hurricane Luis in 1995. It is highly efficient at controlling sediment and therefore improving the healthy development of our coral reefs. Various attempts around the world to cultivate and reintroduce Syringodium have so far proved a failure. On Statia, we can only wait and see if it returns.”

Source: The Daily Herald