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
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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Adaptive Comanagement of a Marine Protected Area Network in Fiji

Adaptive management is an iterative process by which management strategies are adjusted with new information. Although there are calls for adaptive management, few on-the-ground examples of success in conservation planning and MPA network design exist. This article describes a nine year adaptive comanagement process of an MPA network in Kubulan District, Fiji, where adaptive management is being used to revise MPA boundaries based on new science on coral reef resilience to climate change.

In Fiji, locally managed marine areas (LMMAs) have been established by 400 villages. Fiji has a diverse range of management strategies including fisheries management areas, managed fisheries closures, and no-take areas. The authors provide an informative table on how they used resilience principles in adapting their current MPA network management and design.

To increase resilience to climate change, the MPA network was adapted to include critical areas and a broader representation of reef types. Communities supported this because they believe that climate change is a threat to their reef resources. Since the no-take MPA already included reefs which have the most resilience potential, there was no change to no-take areas.

The authors believe that the communities were willing to increase management areas due to attitudes about current protected areas, perceptions of fisheries benefits, and income from a dive fee program.

Author: Weeks, R. and S.D. Jupiter
Year: 2013
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Conservation Biology 27(6): 1234–1244. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12153

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Are U.S. Coral Reefs on the Slippery Slope to Slime?

This article has received significant attention from researchers, managers, and the public. It is a bit controversial and the doom and gloom picture presented may or may not most accurately describe the current state of affairs. Regardless, the paper draws attention to issues of coral reef decline as part of Science’s Policy Forum. The author’s vision of how to reverse coral reef decline in the United States requires addressing multiple threats at the same time. Numerous responses to this paper are available in the 17 June 2005 Science issue (Volume 308).

Author: Pandolfi, J. M., J.B.C. Jackson, N. Baron, R.H. Bradbury, H.M. Guzman, T.P. Hughes, C.V. Kappel, F. Micheli, J.C. Ogden, H.P. Possingham, and E. Sala
Year: 2005
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Science 307: 1725-1726. doi: 10.1126/science.1104258

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Preparing to Manage Coral Reefs for Ocean Acidification: Lessons from Coral Bleaching

The authors examine the lessons learned from the implementation of management strategies to address the impacts of coral reef bleaching and how these strategies may be modified to address the impacts of ocean acidification. Because stabilizing CO2 emissions is the most critical need to address ocean acidification, and this is out of the scope of reef managers’ jobs, it is important to manage for local stressors and protect resilient areas.

The authors have several recommendations: First, because evidence suggests local-scale processes and local stressors have more impact on ocean chemistry, it is important to manage for local stressors (such as land-based sources of pollution and over-fishing). Second, the priority areas to protect include the most resilient, least vulnerable sites. These sites may already be adapted to large variations in pH, may have surrounding seagrass beds, or be connected to “source reefs” to maximize larval influx. Finally the authors recommend further research into the impacts of lowered pH on reef species and on how local and regional processes can affect ocean chemistry.

Author: McLeod, E., K.R.N. Anthony, A. Andersson, R. Beeden, Y. Golbuu, J. Kleypas, K. Kroeker, D. Manzello, R.V. Salm, H. Schuttenberg, and J.E. Smith 
Year: 2013
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Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11:20-27. doi:10.1890/110240

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Human and Coral Reef Use Interactions: From Impacts to Solutions?

This article reviews current scientific preferences in coral reef research to determine if information needed to solve problems associated with coral reef and reef fisheries persistence is being generated. The review finds that recommendations for reef management are limited to eliminating or reducing impacts, reducing human populations and effort, and creating no-take MPAs, and that these solutions are rarely investigated for their social tradeoffs or complexities.

The review found that most scientific efforts focus on ecological impacts of global and anthropogenic stresses (250 articles in a Scopus search) rather than problem solving or solutions to threats posed to coral reef conservation (16 journal articles in the same Scopus search replacing the word ‘impact’ with ‘solution’).

By examining the current literature for several factors including social-ecological impacts, management restrictions, values and tradeoffs, the review calls for more solution-oriented research and gives recommendations in order to generate increased engagement in problem solving impact-related scientific careers.

Author: McClanahan, T.R.
Year: 2011
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Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 408: 3-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jembe.2011.07.021

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Assessing Environmental Damage to Marine Protected Area: A Case of Perhentian Marine Park in Malaysia

Tourism (including diving, snorkeling, swimming and recreational fishing) in and around Perhentian Marine Park on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia is having a negative impact on coral reefs. The authors of this article looked at the most harmful activities that are threatening these ecosystems to guide more effective planning and management.

According to local stakeholders, the activities that are the most harmful to marine habitats in the MPA are littering, discarding fishing equipment, excess fishing, and damage due to too many divers. The researchers make the following recommendations to ensure more protection for coral reefs: reduce and regulate use of coral reefs for tourism activities, conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of land based development activities to determine marine ecosystem impacts, increase effective coordination between agencies and local stakeholders (including fishers), and provide education activities for local communities about the importance of protecting coral reef ecosystems.

Author: Islam, G.M.N., K.M. Noh, T.S. Yew, and A.F.M. Noh
Year: 2013
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Journal of Agricultural Science 5(8): 132-141

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