Coral in the Caribbean has shown a steep decline in the last four decades. Climate change, acidification and human influences such as waste disposal, overfishing and tourism lead to bleaching and death in corals, as well as an increase in algae mats. In many areas, corals show slow or even negative growth. Other regions, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the East African coast, are also under threat. Wageningen Marine Research monitors the coral and contributes to the recovery of coral reefs surrounding Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba through its research.
To this end, we collaborate closely with local governments and conservation organisations such as STINAPA Bonaire, St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA), Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) and the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA).
Climate change causes the seawater temperature and water levels to rise. Moreover, currents and weather patterns are affected, and water acidifies. These changes have a significant impact on coral reefs: the coral bleaches, erodes and crumbles.
The disposal of unpurified sewage into the sea, tourism and overfishing have affected the coral reefs near the Caribean islands of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. While Bonaire has the most human activities, the reef barely seems to grow, and even appears to be eroding. Tourists who visit the reefs to admire their beauty also pose a threat. Diving excursions disrupt the ecosystem; vessels discharge wastewater and UV filters in sunscreens may be toxic. Nutrients in wastewater stimulate algae growth and cause blue algae mats: mats of cyanobacteria that smother the coral. Moreover, the water contains pathogens.
The reefs that are part of marine reserves, and where access is strictly prohibited, are relatively healthy. Research to determine what conditions allow coral reefs to thrive may help in taking protective measures before it’s too late.
How we can help
- Determine the status and health of benthic communities
- Status and health of fish populations
- Chemical research (nutrients, suspended solids (SS), Particulate Organic Matter (POM), Particulate Organic Carbon (POC))
- eDNA research
- Bathymetric research (sonar)
- Internships for students (see for current opportunities)