First ecological assessment conducted since 2010

POSTED: 09/12/13 11:29 AM

Nature Foundation: fish abundance increases by 10-20%

St. Maarten – The Nature Foundation recently concluded a research project where the changes were measured in the environment of the Man of War Shoal Marine Park since it was established almost three years ago. In September 2010 the Nature Foundation conducted baseline research into the health of St. Maarten’s Marine Ecosystem in order to arrive at a baseline in order to determine the health of the ecosystem.

Results from the coral reef monitoring aspect showed that in 2010 there were significant challenges facing St. Maarten’s most important coral reef areas. There was a significant lack of important fish species, including grouper and butterfly fish, which showed that this area had been significantly overfished. There was also a significant absence of lobster on the monitored site, which also indicated overfishing.

With regards to the health of the monitored coral, there was a worrying predominance of harmful nutrient indicator algae observed at the research site. These harmful algae can indicate an increased incidence of nutrients from land runoff affecting the reef and can eventually smother and kill coral. There was also significant evidence of vessel damage which has severely destroyed some segments of reef.

However, on December 30, 2010 the then Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs, Franklin Meyers signed a major step towards marine environmental protection and conservation in general for the country St Maarten when he approved the establishment of the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area, the Caribbean’s youngest MPA.

The research which was conducted in 2013 was done in order to show whether or not the implementation of the MPA had any changes to the environment of the coral reef area the Marine Park Encompasses.

Compared to the period prior to the establishment of the Marine Park fish abundance in 2013 increased some 10% with marked increase in grouper (20%) in general and Nassau grouper (20%) more specifically which shows a reduction in fishing threats. Interesting also is that the data shows an increase in the presence of butterfly fish grunts, snapper and parrotfish were again found to be the most abundant. This increase is important due to the fact that spill-over of fish species outside of the Marine Park will increase fishing in local waters outside of the park.

The 2013 study also there was a worrying low number of lobsters on certain researched reefs. Unfortunately this may be due to collecting of lobster by irresponsible divers and diving guides. There was however an increase measured in coral shrimp.

With regards to coral, the 2013 study follow-up research showed that cover remained somewhat the same, with a five percent increase in the coral cover overall and a two percent decrease in nutrient indicator algae. This is due to the fact that coral cover or coverage on substrate changes are slow to occur as the organisms are slow growing. Follow-up research will show whether the increase in coral cover has any additional effects.

Based on the research the measures that accompany the implementation of the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area have shown an increase in mean fish abundance overall and in certain species specifically. There are still challenges with regards to poaching of especially lobsters within the marine protected area. The Nature Foundation will continue to manage the area going forward and enforce the rules and regulations of the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area accordingly.

 

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