Windward Caribbean – 2018

Expedition Details

Dates: June 12- 20, 2018
Partners: Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI), Nature Foundation Sint Maarten, Saba Conservation Foundation, Sint Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA)

EXPEDITION TEAM

Scripps Institution of Oceanography:
Lindsay Bonito, Staff Researcher
Sho Kodera, Graduate Student

Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI):
Dr. Kimani Kitson-Walters, Data Monitoring Officer
Anna Maitz, Research Staff

Nature Foundation St. Maarten:
Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern, Project Officer
Tadzio Bervoets, Researcher

Saba Bank National Park:
Ayumi Kuramae Izioka, Officer and Science Coordinator

In December 2018, the 100 Island Challenge team completed the second visit to the Windward Caribbean islands of Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, and Saba. These Dutch islands were first visited in 2016 during a ship-based expedition in collaboration with the Waitt Institute and local agencies including the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, Sint Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA), and Saba Bank National Park. Permanent monitoring sites were established at all islands, which were recovered and resurveyed in 2018.

Again, the 100IC partnered with each island’s local agencies with the addition of partners from Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) on St. Eustatius to resurvey 26 sites across the forereef of St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. Over the course of the 17-day expedition, the team recovered 18 of the 26 monitoring sites and re-established new sites where 2016 markers could not be found. Between the visits of 2016 and 2018, the islands were heavily impacted by the Hurricane Irma, Jose and Maria, particularly Sint Maarten, causing much damage to the islands and nearshore reef areas. Large boulders had been displaced, making site recovery and relocation very difficult. No permanent site markers were found at Sint Maarten, whereas nearly all sites were re-surveyed at Sint Eustatius and Saba. Fish and benthic surveys were also conducted at all sites following GCRMN protocols to assess temporal change in communities over the course of two years. Three of nine temperature loggers were recovered, all of which showed a sharp decline in sea temperature immediately before Hurricane Irma, a commonly observed trend.

Through a visual comparison of the large-area images from Saba and Sint Eustatius, the reefs seemed to fair well despite the large hurricane disturbance in 2017. Controversially, reefs around Sint Maarten suffered greater hurricane damage, with a reduction in overall coral cover. Furthermore, divers found evidence of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in Sint Maarten, a previously unknown coral disease originally identified in Florida and rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean. The cause is unknown, but the disease affects many coral species including the slowest-growing and longest-lived reef-building corals. Fortunately, the disease had not yet been reported in Saba or Sint Eustatius.