Nature Foundation diver performing a fish species and abundance survey. (Ray Simon-Lynch photo)
~ Says Nature Foundation in assessment ~
COLE BAY–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. The Foundation is concerned about the current state of the reefs surrounding St. Maarten, specifically with regard to large amounts of wastewater which end up in the ocean and the new 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 wastewater treatment are needed to ensure coral reef existence in the future, the Nature Foundation said.
Each year, reef monitoring conducted according to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) Caribbean’s scientific methods, determine the health, composition and state of coral reefs.
“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 wastewater into our ocean makes corals prone [to diseases – Ed.] and worsens the state of our reefs as algae blooms due to the increase of nutrients coming from wastewater and sewage, overgrowing the habitat of fish, which are coral reefs. In the coming months the data will be analysed and compared to previous years to determine the scope of the coral reef decline on St. Maarten,” explained Nature Foundation’s research officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
The Nature Foundation surveyed mainly sites in the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area and other important locations 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, then the cover of reef organisms (corals) is analysed based on photo quadrats made during the dives, and photo quadrats are assessed for coral health.
Monitoring is also done looking for juvenile corals and algae coverage and height. Lastly, invertebrate species, such as sea urchins, sea cucumbers, lobster and conch, are counted and water quality is measured.
“Coral reefs are critical to the economy of the island. Studies conducted by the Nature Foundation have shown that reefs contribute about US $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.