Resource writes about the Deep Reef Expedition of IMARES researchers on Bonaire.
Photo: The submarine Curasub (© Barry Brown / Substation Curaçao)
The marine biologists Erik Meesters and Lisa Becking of IMARES Wageningen UR have explored Bonaire's deep reef using a submarine. They found unusual animals, fossil reefs, and even archaeological artefacts.
The goal of the Bonaire Deep Reef Expedition is to take an initial inventory of the habitat and biodiversity of the deep reef. The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs has commissioned IMARES to study Bonaire's deep reef as part of the nature policy plan for the Caribbean Netherlands. The researchers took photos and collected biological specimens, thereby taking the first steps in documenting this fascinating ecosystem and its unique biodiversity.
The researchers found fossil reefs at depths of more than 100 metres which had been formed during ice ages when the sea level was much lower than it is today. These fossil reefs provide a hard surface for oases of biodiversity in an extensive, otherwise empty wilderness of sand. The next challenge will be to find more of this type of underwater structure by using acoustic surveys and then to explore these areas using a submarine.
In addition to the biological discoveries, the researchers uncovered archaeological finds, including an 18th-century Spanish urn for storing olives and 100-year-old genever bottles.
The researchers also collected fish, sponges, shells, sea urchins, and other animals. They will collaborate with the taxonomists from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center to classify the species by name. This information is essential for purposes of nature conservation and in order to develop plans for sustainable management of the region. In order to properly protect the deep reefs, we must first know what species are living there and understand the ecological processes which maintain the region's diversity.