New and improved Network Forum

The Reef Resilience Network has launched a new and improved online discussion forum!

Now part of the Reef Resilience website, this interactive online community is a place where coral reef managers and practitioners from around the world can connect and share with others to better manage marine resources.

If you work to protect, manage, or promote coral reefs please join the conversation:

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Assessing Habitat Risk From Human Activities To Inform Coastal And Marine Spatial Planning: A Demonstration In Belize

The expansion of existing and emerging ocean uses has negative effects on ecosystems that provide habitat for key species and benefits to people. Integrated coastal and ocean management needs straightforward approaches for understanding the effects people have on marine environment. In recent years, extensive research has resulted in development of accessible approaches and a better understanding of the relationships between human activities and marine ecosystems. However, some important gaps prevent the use of these approaches in policy-making. This study focuses on the following three impediments to the uptake of risk assessments in coastal management: (1) methods for estimating how habitats will change under future management scenarios; (2) better understanding of the degree to which estimated risk reflects observed environmental degradation; and (3) accessible and transparent tools for incorporating estimated risk into coastal and ocean planning. A model called the Habitat Risk Assessment (HRA) model was developed, which is available in open-source software and can be used by government planners, NGOs, or other stakeholders to assess future scenarios for managing marine ecosystems. To make results more accessible to a policy audience, areas of habitat are classified as high, medium or low risk based on the risk posed by individual activities or by the cumulative effects of multiple activities. The model was used to assess risk to coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds and to design a spatial plan for the sustainable use of the marine environment of Belize. Results from the analysis and the model developed were used to inform the design of the country’s first Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Plan.

This study provides a risk ranking method that calculates risk to ecosystems using two sets of information: (a) exposure, which represents the degree to which the habitat experiences stressors due to a specific human activity and (b) consequence, which reflects the habitat-specific response to stressors associated with different human activities. This method helps identify management options for reducing impacts. In general, management interventions have greater potential to reduce risk via changes in exposure than changes in consequence. New criteria was also developed for estimating risks specific to life history characteristics of the main taxa of coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds. Criteria developed to estimate exposure and consequence were based on the cumulative impact and risk assessment literature for ecosystem components. To quantify exposure, the model requires information on (a) spatial overlap between habitats and activities; (b) temporal overlap between habitats and activities; (c) intensity of the activity; and (d) effectiveness of management strategies for reducing exposure. To estimate consequence of exposure to human activities, the model requires information on (a) change in area; (b) change in structure; (c) frequency of natural disturbance; and (d) resilience. To estimate risk, the study used information on exposure of corals, mangroves and seagrass in Belize to selected human activities and the consequence of this exposure. The study also evaluates future habitat risk under alternative scenarios such as conservation, informed management and development, to understand the influence of human activities on coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds in the future. Results suggest that of the three future scenarios, the Conservation option would result in the greatest area of low-risk habitat and least amount at high risk, for all three habitats.

The HRA model presented here identifies both, planning regions where corals, mangroves and seagrass are at high risk, and which activities contributes the most to risk. The information allows managers to prioritize locations for actions to reduce risk by identifying where the spatial extent and exposure of certain high-risk activities can be reduced. In general, the approach presented has the potential to inform multi-sectoral ocean processes by identifying where cumulative risk from human activities is likely to degrade marine habitats, and how changing the location and extent of these activities reduces risk. When combined with models that estimate habitat-induced changes in ecosystem services, the HRA model helps to evaluate trade-offs between human activities and benefits that ecosystems provide to people.

Author: Arkema, K.K., G. Verutes, J.R. Bernhard, C. Clarke, S. Rosado, M. Canto, S.A. Wood, M. Ruckelshaus, A. Rosenthal, M. McField, and J. de Zegher
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Environmental Research Letters 9. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/9/11/114016

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New Reef Resilience Online Course Launched

The new online course Advanced Studies in Coral Reef Resilience is designed to provide coral reef managers and practitioners in-depth guidance on managing for resilience. This free course incorporates new science, case studies, and management practices described in the Reef Resilience Toolkit.

The course includes six modules that discuss local and global stressors affecting coral reefs, guidance for identifying coral reef resilience indicators, design principles for resilient MPA networks, methods for implementing resilience assessments, and important communication tools for managers. Course participants can choose to complete any or all lessons within course modules. Read more.

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Sint Maarten – MPA Design

The Establishment of Man of Shoals Marine Park in Sint Maarten, Caribbean

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, West Indies

Coral reef in St. Maarten. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

Coral reef in St. Maarten. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

The Challenge
The island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, in the West Indies, is divided between the French Saint Martin in the North (53 km2) and the Dutch Sint Maarten in the South (34 km2). St. Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island is surrounded by about 20 km2 of coral reefs.

St. Maarten experienced its first tourism boom starting in the 1960s, when Cuba was first closed to tourism. St. Maarten is now one of the largest tourism hubs in the West Indies with about 85% of its workforce employed in tourism or tourism-related industries. There is no large-scale commercial fishery, only 10-15 artisanal fishers and recreational fishing for marlin (Makaira spp.) and mahi-mahi (Coryphaena spp.).

Until recently, there was little government management of the marine environment in St. Maarten. In 1997, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten was established in order to set up and manage a marine park in St. Maarten, under contract from the St. Maarten government. St. Maarten was the only country in the Dutch Caribbean that did not have a marine park, therefore the proposal aimed to achieve parity between St. Maarten and the other states of the Dutch Caribbean. The proposed park’s design was based on the design of a marine protected area in Bonaire. However, this design was too extensive (it would have included all of St. Maarten’s territorial waters) and too complicated to gain political support. The interests of the cruise ship industry, fishers, and dive shop operators made this challenging for politicians in St. Maarten. Furthermore, while Bonaire’s protected area had a staff of 54, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten had only three people on staff. The park remained an entity only on paper until 2010.

St. Maarten’s reefs have incurred long-term degradation due to the rapid growth of tourism and poor urban planning and infrastructure and lack of watershed management. Hurricanes and mass coral bleaching events have led to an 80% reduction in coral cover in the near-shore environment.

Staff monitoring in Man of Shoals Marine Park. © Mauricio Handler/ DCNA/ NPL

Staff monitoring in Man of Shoals Marine Park. © Mauricio Handler/ DCNA/ NPL

Actions Taken
In 2010, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten was officially reactivated to create a well-managed marine park, with a strict no-take area to address increasing threats. The Foundation took a three-pronged approach to get support from decision makers on marine park establishment. First, the Foundation did an ecological assessment of St. Maarten’s reefs. This baseline study pinpointed specific areas – the country’s remaining healthy reefs – as a high priority for conservation. They redesigned the proposed park so that it would protect just those areas – representing 25% of the country’s territorial waters, and covering 10,000 hectares.

Next, an economic valuation study of the marine ecosystem was completed using a method from the World Resources Institute. This quick-and-dirty method was designed to be easy-to-use by managers. By interviewing dive shop owners, fishers, tourists and other tourism industry stakeholders, the study was able to paint a compelling picture of the importance of a healthy marine ecosystem to St. Maarten’s economy.

Finally, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten took the results from both the ecological assessment and economic valuation study to the community to make their case for the marine park. The Foundation made presentations at community meetings, talked with fishermen and dive operators, and presented to Parliament. On December 30, 2010, the Man of Shoals Marine Park was established.

One of the first steps for the marine park was the design of a mooring system for dive boats to prevent further damage from anchoring directly on the reef. Prior to and during the establishment of the marine park, the foundation conducted wide-scale outreach to explain why anchors damage the reef. Following the establishment of the park, small businesses in St. Maarten paid for the construction of a mooring system drilled into the substrate.


Hawksbill turtle. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

In the near future, the Foundation hopes to expand the park to 35,000 hectares, which will make it continuous with a park on the French side of the island. Because the current boundaries of the park include the parts of the reef that were best for fishing and diving, those areas with the calmest waters and the healthiest reefs, the expansion is an easier case to make, since it will include choppier waters that are used less for fishing and diving.

How successful has it been?
The Foundation has documented an increase in the populations in certain species of fish through yearly surveys. In 2013, they found that grouper and snapper populations have rebounded, showing a 10-15% increase and fishers are reporting increased catch. The Foundation has begun staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) nurseries and they hope to transplant these stocks to areas with high water quality to quicken the reef’s recovery.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Stakeholder involvement is key. Involving stakeholders and the local community is key to achieving conservation goals. The Foundation went to community groups and community council meetings and gave short and simple presentations. Instead of following these presentations with a traditional question-and-answer session, the Foundation personnel solicited feedback from everyone. By making these sessions informal, they were able to talk and listen to people, and therefore more effectively communicate with community members in a manner that was more comfortable for them.
  • Economic valuation of ecosystems is a powerful, persuasive tool. While it can be controversial, it helped make the case for conservation by showing the economic benefits of ecosystem services which was an effective way to reach key decision makers.
  • Effective communication should be a priority. Communicating the importance of conservation can be challenging, but to get political and popular support for conservation, scientists must do so through all the means available (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and traditional media).

Lead Organization
Nature Foundation St. Maarten

Partner Organization
Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance

Funding Summary
Prince Bernhard Nature Fund
U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Caribbean Environment Program, United Nations Environment Program
World Wildlife Fund Netherlands
Implementing Organization of the Foundation for the Development of the Netherlands Antilles (USONA)
MINA Fund Netherlands Antilles
KNAP Fund Netherlands Antilles
The INNO Fund
Bunchies Garage & Trucking NV
Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA)
St. Maarten Harbour Holding Company (SHHC)
St. Maarten Tourist Office
Dutch National Postcode Lottery
SOL Antilles

The Government of Sint Maarten

Coastal Capital: Ecosystem Valuation for Decision Making in the Caribbean, World Resources Institute

Written by: Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation St. Maarten, Sint Maarten

This case study was adapted from: Cullman, G. (ed.) 2014. Resilience Sourcebook: Case studies of social-ecological resilience in island systems. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY.

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Coral reefs work as nature’s sea walls – It pays to look after them

A group of researchers found that intact coral reefs reduce wave energy by 97% and wave height by 84%. The study, published recently in the journal Nature Communications found that the risk reduction provided by reefs is relevant to some 200 million people worldwide.

At a time when towns, cities and countries are making major investments in climate and weather-related hazard protection, the authors found that coral reef protection makes economic, ecological and practical, risk-reduction sense when compared with artificial solutions such as seawalls.

To dive deeper:

Read a summary of the article and download the full paper. Also, read co-author Mike Beck’s summary of the study and explanation of how implementing better coral reef management and restoration as part of storm risk reduction has become a new field of science and practical application.

Read why Coral Reefs Soften Ocean’s Fury for Millions of Coastal Dwellers and how economics, location, restoration and threat of coral bleaching may all effect healthy reefs and the 200 million people worldwide that rely on them.

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Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, Executive Summary

Since the early 1980s Caribbean coral reefs have suffered massive losses of corals. Impacts from human population growth, overfishing, coastal pollution, global warming and invasive species have resulted in decrease of coral populations, increases of seaweeds, outbreaks of coral bleaching and disease, and failure of corals to recover from natural disturbances. This study analyses the status and trends of reef communities throughout the wider Caribbean. Metadata on the nature of the reef environment, depth and history of human population growth, fishing, hurricanes, coral bleaching and disease was compiled and analyzed. In some cases, biological information for coral and macroalgal cover, abundance of grazing sea urchin Diadema antillarum, and biomass of fishes such as grazing parrotfish was also obtained. Results imply that the three best predictors of the decline in Caribbean coral cover over the past 30 or more years are: (a) outbreaks of Acropora and Diadema diseases (1970s and early 1980s); (b) overpopulation, including increase in tourism; and (c) overfishing of herbivores, particularly parrotfish. Coastal pollution is also significant and increasingly warming seas is also a threat but so far, extreme heating events have had only localized effects.

In summary, the degradation of Caribbean reefs has occurred in three distinct phases: (1) Massive losses of Acropora (mid-1970s to early 1980s) due to White Band Disease; (2) Increase in macroalgal cover and decrease in coral cover following the mass mortality of Diadema (1983) and (3) Continuation of the patterns established in Phase 2 worsened by more overfishing, coastal pollution, tourism, and extreme warming events. Four major recommendations for management emerge from this report:

  1. Adopt conservation and fisheries management strategies to restore parrotfish populations;
  2. Simplify and standardize monitoring of Caribbean reefs and make the results available on an annual basis;
  3. Foster communication and exchange of information;
  4. Develop and implement adaptive legislation and regulations to ensure that threats to coral reefs are systematically addressed.

Author: Jackson, J.B.C.
Year: 2014
View Executive Summary
View Full Report

Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

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The Effectiveness of Coral Reefs for Coastal Hazard Risk Reduction and Adaptation

A global meta-analysis revealed that coral reefs reduce wave energy on coastlines by 97% on average, with the reef crest responsible for attenuating 86% of the energy. Coral reef restoration projects were found to cost significantly less, $1290 USD per meter (median cost), compared to $19,791 USD per meter for building artificial breakwaters, making it significantly cheaper to restore reefs rather than build breakwaters in tropical environments. This study supports the role of coral reefs in risk reduction, including shoreline erosion and flooding, and can be used by managers and policy makers to motivate greater reef protection and restoration.

Author: Ferrario, F., M.W. Beck, C.D. Storlazzi, F. Micheli, C.C. Shepard, and L. Airoldi
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Nature Communications 5(3794). doi:10.1038/ncomms4794

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Dive Against Debris

Participate in or join a Dive Against Debris event. Dates Vary.

Dive against debrisIn response to the onslaught of marine debris, one of the biggest ocean issues of our time, Project AWARE launched Dive Against Debris. Created by divers for divers, this global, underwater survey of rubbish is designed to increase debris removal efforts, prevent harm to marine life and connect your underwater actions to policy changes and prevention.

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Honduras – MPA Design

Supporting and Managing Resilient Systems in the Bay Islands, Honduras

Cordelia Banks, Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras

The Challenge
Cordelia Banks is located on the southwest coast of Roatán in the Honduran Bay Islands. It sits between two cruise docks, as well as the two largest towns in the Islands, Coxen Hole and French Harbour. Cordelia Banks is made up of three large coralline banks covered extensively by staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) colonies. The abundance of this species has been reduced by 98% within the Caribbean, becoming critically endangered as defined by CITES. Smith Bank, the most studied of the 3 banks, has an approximate area of 52 acres, and could possibly be the largest patch of A. cervicornis within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It is an important source of coral spawn, critical because it can help to repopulate reefs of the Caribbean where Staghorn has already disappeared. The area has been identified as a spawning aggregation site for groupers and snappers, and hosts a healthy community of Caribbean gray reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii).

Staghorn coral and diver. Photo © Dano Pendygrasse

Staghorn coral and diver. © Dano Pendygrasse

An Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment has been carried out (almost) every two years since 2006. The findings have shown that Cordelia Banks boasts a staggering 70% live coral cover (in certain study sites). This is the largest coral cover ever recorded by this methodology in over 800 sites Mesoamerican wide. The methodology was reviewed and adjusted by the authors in order to effectively measure and quantify the coral colonies as dense as those found in Cordelia Bank. Cordelia’s biological importance, as well as the threats it faces, makes its complete protection an urgent matter. The effects of coastal development have increased due to the natural attractions of Roatán and the increase in tourism-related investment. Several populated towns also have an indirect influence over Cordelia Banks. It is also located within maritime transport and cruise ship routes, which could easily increase pressure on this fragile ecosystem.

Actions Taken
In 2009, WWF worked with the Roatán Marine Park (RMP) and Luna Environmental Consulting to develop a technical paper describing the ecological significance of the area proposed for protection, which provided the foundation for the next phase of work funded by the Ocean Fund. This document included a Technical Data Sheet about the importance of Cordelia Bank, Rationale for the Request to Declare Cordelia Banks a Site of Wildlife Importance, and the management objectives to promote it as marine protected area (MPA).

The government issued the official declaration for the Honduran Bay Islands National Marine Park in June 2010. This declaration created a marine park encompassing the coasts and marine waters surrounding all three of the Bay Islands (Roatán, Utila, and Guanaja). The Bay Islands National Marine Park area covers 6,471.5 km2.

Cordelia was declared as a Site of Wildlife Importance by the Protected Areas Department within the Forestry Conservation Institute on May 2012, and covers an area of 17 km2. The management plan was developed to fit within the framework of the Bay Islands National Marine Park, and was approved in September 2013.

Caribbean gray reef shark. © Antonio Busiello

Caribbean gray reef shark. © Antonio Busiello

Three main strategies are underway to build effective conservation for the Park:

  1. Support organizing and strengthening departmental, municipal and local advisory councils, specifically those concerning Cordelia Banks, utilizing partnerships with community advisory councils.
  2. Raise public awareness of the Forestry Law, Protected Areas Act, General Regulations and Special Law of the Bay Islands among Cordelia Banks stakeholders, utilizing partnerships with community advisory councils.
  3. Share the regulations contained in the management plan, with local stakeholders, in order to reduce illegal activities and foster community involvement in the management.

Community Advisory Councils
The community advisory councils are a community-based participation, consultation and support platform to the Protected Areas Department within the Forestry Conservation Institute (ICF) and municipalities to manage the natural resources, protected areas (PAs), forest areas and wildlife as stated in the Forestry Law. The councils are key participants in the design and support to the development of the Management Plan for the Bay Islands National Marine Park. Each Community Advisory Council includes representatives of the organizations such as: Patronatos (community councils), water boards, community tourism groups, school boards, fishers organizations or representatives, and other social and productive organizations in the communities that border and/or are within the protected areas.

These councils were created to support all protected areas in the country. PAs and MPAs in Honduras are created by the central government, but the entities in charge of managing them are NGOs, who sign a co-management agreement with ICF and these should have municipal oversight. In reality, ICF is minimally involved, and relations with the local municipal governments are mostly non-existent. There is also no source of federal funding to manage these areas, and NGOs have to turn to imaginative ways of raising operative funds. Councils were thought of as a way to foster more local involvement in the management of PAs, thereby creating more buy-in from this important stakeholder. There have been several cases where protected areas have been declared without ever consulting the local populations, and as such, these have never been respected.

Additionally, training has been conducted, along with capacity building for the Community Advisory Councils on aspects related to the socialization of the Protected Areas Law in the preparation of the Management Plan for Bay Islands National Marine Park. A trip was held for government representatives (Minister and Congress) to Cordelia Banks to celebrate the declaration of the site as one of Wildlife Importance. Cordelia Banks is also managed as a Marine Sanctuary for Sharks (Honduras and Palau Islands are the only two countries in the world where it illegal to fish sharks and sell any of their by-products). Finally, Community Marine Reserves or no-take zones have been established in coordination with the fishermen’s associations and the Community Advisory Councils. The no-take zone has been established within Cordelia Banks in the zoning chapter of the Management Plan.

How successful has it been?
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and the Roatán Marine Park (RMP) applied for a grant to Ocean Fund to acquire a patrol boat for the area. This boat was launched on June of 2012. Roatán Marine Park, with a park Ranger and a National Policeman onboard, coordinates patrolling activities.

CORAL funded a fisheries survey/assessment, carried out by Centro de Estudios Marinos’ Steve Canty. This information was very helpful in the creation of the management plan, as it allowed identifying key players within the fishing community. These stakeholders were invited to help create the no-take zone, during the meetings to write up the management plan. TNC, with USAID funding, organized these fishermen into a legal organization.

Healthy Honduran reef © Ian Drysdale

Healthy Honduran reef. © Ian Drysdale

The zoning will soon be a reality with the installation of buoys. These are being installed by a joint effort carried out by CORAL, RMP and Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), with funding from Port of Roatán.

The biological monitoring of the area is being done in several different ways. Reef health is defined using the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) protocol and HRI’s Simplified Integrated Reef Health Index (SIRHI), alongside many other local organizations. Coral spawning and a grouper/snapper spawning/aggregation site are also monitored on the right phases of the moon.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

  • With the Ocean Fund Grant, WWF was able to engage the local communities to move forward, after the legal declaration of the Bay Islands National Marine Park. Without WWF’s involvement, as well as ICF, Honduras Directorate General of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and CORAL, the Cordelia Banks advisory council would not have become active and would have remained another amazing idea on paper.
  • Consolidating the advisory councils was a necessary step prior to designing the management plans, as these are usually the users of the resources contained in these protected areas.
  • The Ocean Fund was catalytic to assuring the long-term legal status and conservation of Cordelia Banks by setting the stage for successfully designing the management plan.
  • Involving the local fishermen in the creation of the management plan was a key element in defining the no-take zone, as well as identifying the sites to install fishing moorings.
  • AGRRA and HRI’s SIHRI was a valuable tool that helped identify the biological importance of the site, based on the outstanding coral cover found.
  • ‪CORAL has been leading the discussion about the development of a Bay Islands Conservation Fund. Working with government officials, CORAL has facilitated several meetings to determine the use of mitigation funds that otherwise would not be accessible for the ongoing management of marine protected areas in the Bay Islands (mitigation monies would simply roll over into a general fund). This new conservation fund would shore up long-term sustainable financing for Cordelia Banks and the Bay Islands (a minimum of $75,000 per year for 30 years is identified as mitigation for maintenance activities of the cruise ship docks).
  • Engaging the private sector created a win-win situation that fostered collaboration between all stakeholders: the private sector needed to comply with requisites contained in their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); the local organizations needed funding to create an applicable and consulted management plan.

Funding Summary
World Wildlife Fund
Oak Foundation
Summit Foundation
Coral Reef Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
Ocean Fund
MAR Fund
Roatán Marine Park
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Port of Roatán

Lead Organizations
Healthy Reefs Initiative
Coral Reef Alliance

Healthy Reefs Initiative
WWF-Mesoamerican Reef
Roatán Marine Park
Coral Reef Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
Port of Roatán

Cordelia Banks – Jewel of the Meso-American Reef (video)

Treasures of Roatan: Cordelia Banks (video)

WWF Report: Coral Reef Protection in Cordelia Banks (pdf)

Cordelia Banks Info Sheet (pdf)

Technical Paper (pdf, Spanish)

Information on Honduran Protected Areas (pdf, Spanish)

Cordelia Banks Management Plan (pdf, Spanish)

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Bonaire – Land-Based Pollution

Wastewater Treatment and Fishing Legislation in Bonaire

Bonaire National Marine Park, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

The Challenge
Collectively, the island of Bonaire and the Ramsar areas of several satellite islands (Klein Bonaire and Lac) form the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP). The park encompasses 2,700 hectares of fringing coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems and contains diverse habitats from the shore to intertidal environments, and from coral reefs to deep water environments.

Bonaire1, caption: Bonaire National Marine Park contains diverse coral reef habitats. Photo © J.P. Carnevale

Bonaire National Marine Park contains diverse coral reef habitats. © J.P. Carnevale

Bleaching and hurricane events have affected this area in the past. Only mild bleaching occurred in association with the 1998 El Niño bleaching event, resulting in good recovery. In 1999, Hurricane Lenny affected the shallow reefs of the leeward side of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire; however recovery was similarly high, with recruitment rates 3.5 times higher than the rest of the Caribbean, and high survival rates. More recently, the 2005 and 2006 bleaching events resulted in bleaching of approximately 9% and 10%, respectively. However, in both events the recovery rate after the thermal stress subsided was almost 100%. After a bleaching event in 2010, 10% of corals bleached and died leading to a sharp decline in coral abundance in 2011. Combined with losses of herbivorous parrotfish to overfishing, this has led to an increase of macroalgae.

Aside from these natural disturbances, this region is threatened by pollution, coastal development, invasive species (lionfish and halophila seagrass) and growth in tourism activities.

Actions Taken
The mission of the Bonaire National Marine Park is to protect and manage the island’s natural, cultural and historical resources, while allowing ecologically sustainable use for the benefit of future generations. The BNMP strongly believes that the first step to ensure healthy and resilient corals is to protect water quality and reduce all stresses. Within this framework, the BNMP has been taking different conservation and management actions to address the distinct problems of overfishing, coastal development, pollution, and negative impacts of tourism.

Constructing the wastewater treatment plant. © Jan Jaap van Almenkerk

Constructing the wastewater treatment plant. © Jan Jaap van Almenkerk

In 2010, legislation was passed to improve environmental protection, and as of 2014 was still in place and starting to show improvements in the environment. The legislation includes protection of identified resilience factors like: full protection of herbivorous fishes, full protection of many carnivorous fishes, and stronger rules and regulations on fisheries. The new legislation also includes improvements in procedures for coastal construction and more stringent construction guidelines.

To address the documented decline in predator fishes like groupers, grunts and snappers, the BNMP started lobbying the government and different stakeholders in 2004 to create fish protected areas (FPAs). Within this lobbying work, a group of fishermen, dive operators, government officers and others stakeholders from St. Lucia visited Bonaire to explain to their counterparts how FPAs in Bonaire would benefit both fisherman and tourism operators. A few months later a group of fishermen, government officers, BNMP Rangers and tour operators visited St. Lucia with the same purpose. In 2008, after intensive negotiations, two FPAs were established on the leeward side on Bonaire, encompassing approximately 4 km of a no-take zone. In 2010 the harvest of parrotfish and use of fish traps were banned.

Coastal Development and Pollution
In addition to fishing pressures, Bonaire is experiencing rapid coastal development. To minimize the impact of construction practices, the BNMP developed an officially approved booklet of Construction Guidelines, together with the Department of Physical Planning, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the local waste management company, construction companies, land owners, developers, and local NGOs. The BNMP ran an intensive nutrient monitoring program during 2006-2008, and Nov. 2011- May 2013 that covered the entire leeside of Bonaire and all around Klein Bonaire. This nutrient monitoring program was run in cooperation with the Central Government, the Department of Physical Planning of Bonaire and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Florida. Preliminary data show that the levels of dissolved nitrogen are high and that the most probable cause is due to sewage and unsustainable irrigation practices in the coastal zone. To mitigate this sewage water input to the sea, the BNMP worked with resort operators to establish “water balances,” and to improve fresh water and waste water management. This work has ended with the establishment of a local sewer system.

With over four years of nutrient monitoring data indicating high levels of nutrients in the area, a wastewater treatment facility is under construction. The facility plant is designed to move wastewater away from the shoreline and is anticipated to be in operation by late 2014. A temporary plant is in place and has been operating since 2011 while construction continues on the main plant.

Bonaire3, caption: Bonaire National Marine Park's coral reef habitats are threatened by over-fishing, pollution, coastal development, tourism, and bleaching events. Photo © BNMP

Bonaire National Marine Park’s coral reef habitats are threatened by over-fishing, pollution, coastal development, tourism, and bleaching events. © BNMP

Dive tourism is an essential component of the economy of Bonaire, generating significant income and creating employment, and it is vital that dive operators and their clients are well educated about potential negative impacts and means of reducing them. In 2008, the BNMP developed a “Reef Ranger” course. This course has been mandatory since 2010 but not yet fully implemented. The goal of this program is to maximize active support for coral reef conservation by providing standardized training for dive staff, tailored to local circumstances. BNMP recognized that dive operators and divers can be natural ambassadors for coral reef conservation since they have a vested interest in maintaining healthy and diverse marine ecosystems.

Effective communication is also a fundamental goal of Stichting Nationale Pareken (STINAPA) Bonaire, which successfully manages two nature parks of Bonaire National Marine Park and Washington Slagbaai National Park. Communication with the general public and stakeholder groups is a main priority for the BNMP, prompted by a group of residents who indicated a decrease of awareness and involvement, and no sense of ownership of the BNMP. As a result, an on-going communication campaign titled “Nature is our livelihood,” was developed to provide knowledge and change attitudes about conservation issues. Providing adequate information concerning the importance of nature conservation and the sustainable development of Bonaire was considered of utmost importance. The campaign has been successful in some areas and is currently undergoing an evaluation.

How successful has it been?

Monitoring has taken place regularly since 2003 in Bonaire. The ban on fishing of parrotfish (and use of fish traps) has led to an increase in parrotfish population density and biomass after 2011, and, despite a decrease in coral abundance due to bleaching, coral cover began to increase again (while macroalgae cover decreased) in 2013. Perhaps due to an increase in predation, Diadema urchin populations have decreased.

Coastal Development and Pollution
A temporary water treatment plant was built on Bonaire and began operation in late 2011, and a second will be in operation in late 2014. It is estimated that a total of 17.5 to 35 tons of nitrogen a year will be removed from waste water. However, recent nutrient monitoring in late 2013 showed that water quality indicators on the west coast of Bonaire signal eutrophic conditions, though levels of nitrogen have been decreasing slightly. Some sampled sites had high levels of fecal bacteria numbers, and increasing levels of phosphorous. Generally, sampling has showed a slight improvement since 06-08 values, but nutrients remain at threshold levels.

A strong conservation ethic persists in Bonaire, mainly due to the large revenue from tourism focused on SCUBA diving and snorkeling. The focus of this environmental work has been on local people rather than tourism, although tourism has increased in the last few years.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Involvement of key stakeholders is critical. No conservation plan will succeed long term without complete support of interested parties.
  • Involve all stakeholders from the beginning; demonstrate that what you want to implement (with their help) has unique value, and that they are the beneficiaries of this plan/action.
  • Set up an implementation plan (simple is better), discuss it with the stakeholders when ready make it public, and follow it step-by-step with little improvisation.
  • Once the plan is implemented, inform stakeholders about news of progress as well as failures. Transparency is critical!
  • Create clear rules, laws and procedures. People are more willing to support what they understand and trust.
  • Communication campaigns can help provide updated information to the general public and government officers.
  • The development of Integrated Coastal Management can reduce the amount of stressors on the reef to improve resilience to future climate change.
  • The development of a course similar to the “Reef Ranger” program can improve the sustainable practices of reef divers and other water sport practitioners.

Funding Summary

Lead Organizations
Bonaire National Marine Park

Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment
Ministry of Economic Affairs
DROB—NMB (Local environmental planning department)
Sea Turtle Conservation of Bonaire
Council of Underwater Resource Operators
The Nature Conservancy

Bonaire construction guidelines formulated by the BNMP, Department of Physical Planning, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the local waste management company, construction companies, land owners, developers, and local NGOs.

Results of the nutrient monitoring program, conducted in cooperation with the Central Government, the Department of Physical Planning of Bonaire, and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.

Bonaire National Marine Park Management (pdf)

Coral Reef Resilience Assessment of the Bonaire National Marine Park (pdf)

Status and Trends of Bonaire’s Reefs in 2013: Causes for Optimism

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