PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — For the last few weeks the St. Maarten Nature Foundation has been monitoring the Coral Reefs inside of the Man of War Shoal Marine Park for incidents of Coral Bleaching. Coral bleaching is the loss of color from corals under stressful environmental conditions. While any stress can cause corals to bleach, high water temperature has been the major cause of coral bleaching events worldwide in recent decades.
When corals bleach for a significant period of time they run the risk of dying all together. The Nature Foundation decided to check for coral bleaching due to the prolonged period of hot, calm weather the island has been experiencing over the last few weeks.
For 2015 there is an elevated chance for Coral Bleaching in the Caribbean Region and it was decided to put into effect the Coral Bleaching Response Plan which was drafted by the Nature Foundation in 2010. The initial phase of the plan includes continued monitoring and the implementation of various management strategies to combat the effects of Bleaching.
Although the consensus is still out, the increased incidences of Coral Bleaching is more than likely caused by the heating up of the earth due to global warming. In the past decades the Caribbean in particular has seen an increased number of coral bleaching events with the last major bleaching occurring in 2005, where more than half of the Coral Reefs in the Caribbean, including St. Maarten, died.
The man of War Shoal Marine Park and the coral reef areas within it are of significant environmental and economic importance as diving in Marine Parks is globally on the rise and generally accepted by the diving tourist as a “must do” vacation activity.
An economic valuation study conducted by the Nature Foundation of St. Maarten’s coral reef ecosystem has placed the monetary value at close to US$67 million in contributions to the economy of the country. With proper management and restoration the area will increase the St. Maarten Tourism Product and local fisheries will also be enhanced through the regeneration of the depleted fish stock surrounding St. Maarten.
Research has shown that Marine Protected Areas increase fish populations and fish size of commercial species in nearby fishing grounds.
The Nature Foundation will continue to implement the Coral Bleaching Response Plan until further notice.
Photo: Bleached White Coral at the Mike’s Maze Site (Photo Etienne Lake)