Curaçao sea turtle conservation

This video is about a sea turtle swimming near Curaçao.

From the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA):

Six species of sea turtles are found in the waters surrounding the Dutch Caribbean islands with regular nesting activity occurring annually on the sandy beaches of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten. Because sea turtles undertake remarkably long transboundary migrations and because they are slow to reach sexual maturity (20 – 30 years), they require significant international cooperation and long-term monitoring in order to best understand their population trends.

Once amazingly abundant, Caribbean sea turtles have seen a rapid decline since the time of European expansion in the Americas. Scientists estimate that in the 1600s, over 90 million Green Turtles were present the Caribbean seas. Today the number is estimated at a mere 300,000. Hawksbills have plunged 99.7% from 11 million to 30,000. Fishing gear entanglement, illegal harvesting, coastal development, marine pollution and climate change still remain serious threats to the recovery of global sea turtle populations.

Having been involved with sea turtle conservation for more than two decades, Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB) has gained important knowledge and understanding not only of sea turtles ecology and biology, but also of best practices for conducting scientific research. STCB staff and volunteers are well-experienced in catching, measuring and weighing the animals while causing the least amount of stress, they know when and where to do beach patrols and they know how best to protect sea turtle nests.

After becoming an established organisation on Bonaire and widely respected within the regional sea turtle conservation community, STCB is actively sharing its knowledge in an attempt to strengthen and support sea turtle monitoring and conservation efforts on the other Dutch Caribbean islands. In addition to leading workshops on Bonaire with several visiting island conservation organisations, STCB recently visited St. Maarten to conduct an assessment of potential sea turtle feeding areas, providing important information to support the St. Maarten Nature Foundation in implementing appropriate and effective in-water monitoring efforts.

On Curaçao, 2013 brought increased sea turtle conservation and protection on the island with the establishment of four new Ramsar sites and the legal ban on destructive gillnet practices, which will come into effect in May 2014. Additionally, a dialogue between STCB and CARMABI began with the idea of developing and implementing a sea turtle nest monitoring programme on Curaçao using Bonaire as a model. In February 2014, Curaçao has officially taken the next step in the protection of the island’s charismatic and threatened sea turtles. Recent discussions between the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC), the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, STCB, the Curaçaoan Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as CARMABI and Uniek Curaçao have led to a collaborative agreement to develop a monitoring programme to asses the health and status of Curaçao’s sea turtle populations. The aim is to initiate a beach patrol programme to monitor nesting activity of sea turtles on the Shete Boka beaches throughout the nesting season (May – December) and perform head count surveys of feeding sea turtles in one of the key feeding areas on Curaçao – Boka Ascension. The data collected will not only be used to determine the presence and species composition of sea turtles in Curaçao and identify trends over time, but will also contribute to a regional dataset that monitors Caribbean-wide sea turtle population trends and will allow Curaçao to properly manage this precious endangered species.

To learn more about or get involved with sea turtle conservation on Curaçao, contact the Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature, CARMABI or Uniek Curaçao.

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Caribbean whales, dolphins and sharks

This video says about itself:

Whales in the Caribbean off Antigua and Barbuda

Humpback whales pass through the island chain each year giving those of us doing tours and charters something to look forward to. Yesterday we switched off the engines in very still conditions and had the pleasure of spending over 30 minutes with a mother and her calf. Some of the passengers on the boat couldn’t be held back and went over to snorkel with them. We made sure to keep good distance, but the inquisitive whales came very close to us to give us a good look.

Researchers of IMARES Wageningen UR in the Netherlands report about airplane based research, early November this year, in the Caribbean, in the sea around Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao islands.

From the plane, they saw humpback whales, common bottlenose dolphins and rough-toothed dolphins. Also marine mammals which might be either Atlantic spotted dolphins, or pantropical spotted dolphins. These two species look very much alike from the air.

They saw sea turtles, rays and birds as well.

A whale shark was seen north of Aruba; and a basking shark north of Curaçao.

Curaçao coral reefs and sponges

This video is called Caribbean Coral Reefs.

From the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) on Wednesday 20 November 2013:

Coral reefs around the world are naturally surrounded by nutrient depleted waters. One might suspect a lack of nutrients would prohibit their growth; however, coral reefs are amongst the most biodiversity-rich marine ecosystems in the world. Charles Darwin observed this during his voyage on the Beagle in the 19th century, but only now has that phenomenon, aptly called ‘Darwin’s Paradox’, been explained.

A team of researchers has recently looked into the role of sponges on the coral reefs around Curaçao and found some surprising results. By recycling vast amounts of organic matter, it is the sponges that keep the reef alive. Bacteria have the reputation to be ‘nature’s recyclers’, but on coral reefs they are not abundant enough to serve as the recyclers of the whole reef community. Sponges were found to be bigger recyclers than bacteria and to produce nearly as many nutrients as all the primary producers, corals and algae, in a tropical reef combined.

By feeding the sponges isotope-labelled sugars, and by tracing these molecules on their journey, they found that the sugars were quickly shed to the seabed in dead cells (detritus). Within two days, the same molecules were present in snails and other lower organisms that feed on the sediment containing dead sponge cells. These organisms are in turn eaten by larger animals, and so the cycle continues.

Apart from the speed, it was the sheer volume of food turnover which took the researchers by surprise; nearly tenfold the amount that is recycled by bacteria. To illustrate this, the sponge Halisarca caerulea takes up two-thirds of its body weight in dissolved organic matter every day, but barely grows in size because old cells are continuously shed to the seabed.

Recognising this newly discovered role of sponges for these threatened and fragile ecosystems will hopefully aid coral reef conservation efforts worldwide.

Read the entire article in BioNews.

Three shipwrecks were removed from coral reefs in the Pacific. How long will it take the reefs to recover? Here.

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Caribbean reforestation wildlife news

This vido is called Bonaire Wildlife.

From the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) on Monday 9 September 2013:

In 2000, CARMABI launched a reforestation project on Klein Curaçao. Preliminary results inspired a similar project on Klein Bonaire, which began in 2006. The ecosystems on both islands are showing promising results. During visits in June and July 2013 to both islands, Dr. Dolfi Debrot from the IMARES Wageningen University Research Center, described the results as “astounding”. On Klein Curaçao, more than ten native plant species have been reintroduced and are successfully reproducing and on Klein Bonaire large specimen of fruit-bearing trees can be found again which will provide a food source for birds that have not been observed on the island for years.

Continuously doused in salt spray, battered by trade winds and subject to arid limestone soil and scorching sun, Klein Curaçao, with its small size (70 hectares or 173 acres) and flat surface, is one of the most barren landscapes in the southern Caribbean region.

Grazing by feral goats has been a predominant problem on both islands for over a hundred years, but whereas on Klein Curaçao the original native tree vegetation had totally disappeared due to phosphate mining and overgrazing, on Klein Bonaire (600 hectares or 1,490 acres) the ecosystem suffered severely from wood-cutting for charcoal.

When in 1996 the government of Curaçao secured the grazing rights on Klein Curaçao, the emaciated livestock was removed from the island and this cleared the way for CARMABI to arrange several replanting campaigns between 2000 and 2009. The goal was to reintroduce native beach vegetation and pioneering plant species so as to jump-start the reestablishment of natural habitats on this once densely vegetated island. On Klein Bonaire, in 2006, 2007 and 2009, STINAPA Bonaire and CARMABI have planted native tree species, such as ‘Watakeli’ (Bourreria succulenta), ‘Mansaliña Bobo’ (Metopium brownei), and Myrcia curassavica, which have all but been lost from the island. The results of both reforestation projects are quite remarkable considering the extremely dry climate and barren environment especially on Klein Curaçao. This offers high hopes for other islands in the southern Caribbean region with similar problems and climates.

The focus on Bonaire was firstly on plants that are low in number and under threat of becoming locally extinct (such as the native Sabal palm (Sabal causuarium) and the rare endemic tree Myrcia curassavica) and secondly on plants that play a significant ecological role as a fruit or flower source for birds or other fauna, such as ‘Watakeli’ (Bourreria succulenta), ‘Mansaliña Bobo’ (Metopium brownei), ‘Palu di Huku’ (Jacquinia arborea) and ‘Palu di Rhambèshi’ (Sideroxylon obovatum). On Klein Curaçao, the harsh climate caused a large part of reintroduced plants to perish before taking root, but hundreds of planted trees and shrubs managed to grow to a considerable size. The most abundant tree species is the ‘Mangel Blanku’ or Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus), a mangrove-like tree of which several specimen are larger than four metres high and of which seedlings and young trees are widely spread on the island. The removal of the goats from the island has given ground-covering species a chance to flourish and has resulted in extensive grass fields, dominated by ‘Korta-Man’ (Cyperus planifolius). The most abundant shrub species is the Sea Lavender (Mallotonia gnaphalodes), locally known as ‘Tabako di Piskado’, growing predominantly along the beaches, just like the locally endangered Beachberry (Scaevola plumieri), which, on Curaçao, is only found on Klein Curaçao. During the assessment, flowers, seeds and seedlings of 16 of the reintroduced species were recorded, which means that these species are already reproducing self-sufficiently in different parts of the island.

Similar results have been obtained for Klein Bonaire where now mature ‘Palu di Huku’ (Jacquinia arborea), ‘Watakeli’ (Bourreria succulenta), ‘Mansaliña Bobo’ (Metopium brownei), ‘Lumbra Blanku’ (Erithalis fruticosa) and ‘Uña di Gatu’ (Pithecellobium unguis-cati) trees were found blossoming and already carrying fruits. These trees enrich the vegetation and produce food for endangered bird species during the dry season. In the past, the Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa) and the Yellow-shouldered Amazon Parrot (Amazona barbadensis) occurred on the island, but they have disappeared over the decades. Since the reforestation efforts ended in 2009, some Scaly-naped Pigeons have started to return to the island and hopefully before long the Yellow-shouldered Amazon will follow.

Plants form the driving force of an ecosystem and without plants the biodiversity usually remains low. The fact that plants are starting to do well on Klein Curaçao again has even led to the appearance of native butterfly species on the island. The small Gray Ministreak (Ministrymon azia) now occurs along the entire west coast of the island and during other seasons the blue Hemiargus hanno and the brown Bubastus Hairstreak (Strymon bubastus) appear on the island. The native bird the Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) was also introduced (three individuals) but has since disappeared from Klein Curaçao around two years ago. However, the endemic Striped Anole (Anolis linearis), an insectivore tree lizard, of which more than 30 were re-introduced to the island, seems to fare well in this environment.

These projects demonstrate that, once the threats have been addressed, with the right choice of species, locations, planting techniques and timing, it is possible to begin reforesting an ecosystem with very limited resources. Natural phenomena like shade, leaf litter and shelter from wind can once again be found on Klein Curaçao, which also provides a chance for the more vulnerable plant species to develop. In turn, the roots of the developing vegetation help keep the soil in place and prevent erosion. The re-emerging ecosystem helps to hold sand in place to prevent erosion and will help protect Klein Curaçao in the face of climate change and sea level rise.

These reforestation projects give testimony to the devastating effect of grazing by feral goats, but also show that when measures are taken to control grazing, the indigenous flora and fauna can quickly bounce back, especially when given a helping hand.

Hawksbill turtle babies on Curaçao

This is a hawksbill turtle video.

Translated from Dutch news agency Novum:

August 24, 2013 09:53

Hawksbills‘ nest surprises Curaçao

The hawksbill turtle which laid eggs on a popular Curaçao tourist beach earlier this month turns out to have been there a month earlier as well.

Thursday night beachgoers discovered a number of small turtles in the sand. In total 65 turtles hatched from the hidden eggs. With the help of bystanders they were are all brought safely to the sea.

The hawksbill turtle is an endangered species and rarely comes ashore on Curaçao. According to local fishermen that happened most recently in 1990.

These big turtles are sometimes seen in the waters around Curaçao. Then, they usually have a length of fifty to seventy centimeter. The turtle on the beach of Lagun was significantly larger: one meter and ten centimeter. That’s only four centimeter smaller than the world record. Given the size of the shield, experts estimate that the mother is about 25 to 30 years old.

The nest which previously made ​​the news will hatch only in the beginning of October. According to Sue Willis of the foundation Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire it is normal that hawksbills nest five to seven times at the same location. In early August she already said that the Lagun nest probably would not be the only one.

Bahamas hawksbill turtles: here.

Saving Curaçao coral reefs

This video is called Acropora cervicornis 330 day growth time-lapse.

From the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), on Sunday 28 July 2013:

It’s no secret that Caribbean coral reefs have suffered dramatic declines over the past decades. Once the dominant reef-building coral species in shallow water, Acropora (Staghorn and Elkhorn) colonies in particular have decreased significantly in abundance; Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) numbers have decreased by 97% since the 1980s. A multitude of threats have led to this decline, such as disease, coral bleaching, hurricanes, human activity and the collapse of the Long-spined Sea Urchin (Diadema antillarum) populations, which are one of the main ‘grazers’ of the reef, keeping it free from overgrowing algae. As a result of these threats, both Elkhorn and Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Healthy Acropora populations fulfil various important ecological functions within Caribbean reef communities. They provide necessary habitat and shelter for an enormous number of reef organisms including adult and juvenile fish, sustain important ecological processes such as calcification and serve as coastal protection due to their ability to dissipate wave energy.

Even though Curaçao and Bonaire’s reefs have some of the highest coral cover, here too the Acropora corals have been affected. What is left are small patches in scattered areas around the islands, hindering reproduction and thereby natural recovery.

In 2010, the SECORE Foundation, in close partnership with CARMABI and the Curaçao Sea-Aquarium, launched a restoration programme aimed at developing methods to assist in the recovery of the threatened and highly valued Acropora corals. SECORE is a global network of scientists, public aquarium professionals and local stakeholders that combines research, education, outreach and active reef restoration.

In contrast to more commonly used techniques which depend on the production of offspring by fragmentation of existing colonies, SECORE uses sexually produced offspring, which are reared under nursery conditions prior to reintroduction to the reef. Although corals are capable of reproducing clonally, sexually produced offspring are generated in far greater numbers and are genetically more diverse compared to asexually produced offspring. Preserving genetic diversity in remaining coral populations is crucial for their long-term survival because genetic variation increases the potential to adapt to environmental challenges, such as those faced by coral reefs.

SECORE’s research focuses on Elkhorn coral. To facilitate this species’ recovery, 370 Acropora juveniles were outplanted as primary polyps in 2012. Their survival rate after six months was 13%, which compares well to natural recruitment and survival rates that presently are approximately zero. Increasing the survival of outplanted corals would improve the effectiveness of existing restoration methodologies, but in order to do so, first the processes driving the survival and growth of newly settled corals needed to be explored.

Newly settled corals experience high mortality immediately after settlement as their small size makes them extremely vulnerable to (a)biotic disturbances. Coral recruits can die from multiple factors including competition, sedimentation, predation, diseases and bleaching. Processes occurring during early post-settlement life stages of corals strongly influence the local abundance of corals. Consequently, factors driving post-settlement mortality deserve special attention, as they strongly influence future populations. Improved knowledge of the ecological mechanisms which affect recruitment success of corals during their earliest post-settlement life stages holds great potential to improve the effectiveness of existing restoration strategies. Therefore, PhD candidate Valérie Chamberland (IBED, University of Amsterdam) started working with Dr. Mark Vermeij (Science Director, CARMABI) in May 2012 to study the ecological dynamics during the earliest life stages of corals to further increase the success of restoration efforts such as the SECORE programme. In the next three years, Chamberland hopes to be able to identify which factors have the most influence on corals during their early life stages.

«Sexual offspring are created during one of nature’s most breathtaking underwater scenes: coral spawning. In hermaphrodite species, each single polyp within a coral colony invests energy and fatty reserves year round to produce male and female gametes, which are delicately packaged together within one compact sperm/ egg bundle. At one specific day throughout the year, coral colonies synchronously release their gamete bundles that slowly float their way up to the surface, where they will break apart with the wave action. At the sea surface, floating eggs from a given parent will be fertilised by sperm from a second individual, sparking a complex sequence of development stages: embryogenesis. The annual cycle of seawater temperature fluctuation dictates the month of gamete release while the day is set by the lunar cycle. Ultimately, the exact timing is narrowed down by the time after sunset and coral spawning will usually start a few hours after dusk. This is also when coral sperm and eggs are collected for restoration purposes. For well-studied species, the exact spawning timing can be predicted and on the expected evenings several colonies are monitored in the hope of collecting spawn from enough individual colonies to generate genetic variability. After collection, all divers speed back to shore in a hurry to mix sperm and egg to allow fertilisation. After a few days, coral embryos develop into swimming planulae, which will eventually seek the bottom in search of a new home and settle to an artificial substrate within the SECORE land-based nursery at the Curaçao Sea-Aquarium.»

Text: Valérie F. Chamberland

World’s largest exhibit based on Indo-Pacific coral reef: here.

Meet a woman who’s saving #coral reefs + the life they support: here.