Published On: Tue, Dec 22nd, 2015

Scientific assessment of Curaçao’s coastal waters show healthy and thriving coral and fish populations

Underwater-Garden-Curacao-plantsWILLEMSTAD - A recent two-week long scientific assessment surveyed over 150 dive sites of Curaçao’s shallow water reef sites and found signs of healthy coral and fish populations around the island, particularly in Oostpunt. The scientific assessment was a critical step in Blue Halo Curaçao and its comprehensive, science-based approach to ocean zoning.

Last November, the Waitt Institute led the assessment in joint partnership with the Government of Curaçao, using the Waitt research vessel as a “moving laboratory.” Twelve expert Caribbean marine biologists gathered in Curaçao to conduct the survey.

“The expedition was a massive team effort. It would not have been possible without our science team, the ship’s crew, and support from the Government of Curaçao,” said Andy Estep, Waitt Institute Science and Field Manager. “Conducting an expedition at this scale has never been done before on Curaçao and it’s exciting to think of what the science will show us about Curaçao’s coral reefs.”

The survey included coral, fish, invertebrate, and water quality surveys every 700 meters along the island’s south shore and approximately every 3 kilometers along the north shore. In total, the team accumulated 517 hours underwater surveying over 80 kilometers of reef habitat.

“This successful expedition allows us to answer some scientific questions regarding the dynamics of Caribbean reef systems,” said Dr. Mark Vermeij, Scientific Director at CARMABI. "In addition, this assessment makes Curacao's reefs the best surveyed reefs of any country on the planet which is obviously crucial for the design of future management strategies.”

While the data collected will be analyzed over the next few months, preliminary findings show that Curaçao has not only some of the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean, but also some of the most impacted. Scientists were discouraged to find that nearly every dive site visited contained some form of trash: empty beer bottles, anchors, abandoned fishing nets, car tires and more. The good news is that this particular problem can be solved.

"The people of Curaçao have an important role to play in reversing this disturbing trend as is indiscriminate dumping of trash all over the island, “said Gisette Seferina, Site Manager of Blue Halo Curaçao. “There is a fundamental paradigm shift that needs to come about in the way people regard their common spaces, and these includes the coastal areas and the sea itself.”

Interestingly, Oostpunt contained almost no trash in comparison with the rest of the island.

“We were thrilled to survey Oostpunt. It is was an incredible experience to have a glimpse back in time to what a healthy Caribbean coral reef used to look like,” said Estep. “The people of Curaçao should know they have one of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs alive.”

The aim of the scientific assessment is to produce a report on marine resources around Curaçao. A map of coastal habitats will also be created. Similarly, a report on the stakeholders' usage of the sea resulting from a Listening Tour, launching in January, will be compiled and presented to the government and the people of Curaçao as a complement to the scientific assessment’s findings, and can be used to support the creation of policies to manage the shallow waters around the island sustainably.

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