PHILIPSBURG – Last Saturday, July 15, the St. Maarten Nature Foundation partnered with Ocean Explorer’s Dive Center to host PADI International Women’s Dive Day.
Women’s Dive Day is an international initiative aimed at closing the unnecessary gender gap that currently exists within the scuba diving community, and the contribution and importance of women to the scuba diving industry is celebrated and recognized. The Nature Foundation partnered with Ocean Explorers Dive Center in organizing specialty dives in order to celebrate the day. Participants were educated about coral restoration and research initiatives organized by the Nature Foundation.
Participants went scuba diving and learned about the coral restoration efforts of the Nature Foundation as a part of the 3-year Restoration of Ecosystem Services and Coral Reef Quality (RESCQ) project funded by the European Union (EU) Best 2.0 Program. The project will restore Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (A. cervicornis) corals by establishing coral nurseries to grow coral fragments and transplant corals at selected restoration sites.
Until the 1980s, Acropora coral species dominated the near shore zone of many Caribbean islands, including St. Maarten, with cover estimates of up to 85%. However, these coral reef zones have almost disappeared from most islands in the region due to diseases, climate change and habitat destruction.
Acropora corals are currently listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems and Species. The loss of corals has had large negative effects on biodiversity, biomass of fishes, and coastal protection as well as a significant decline in the attractiveness of shallow near-shore coral reefs.
“The dive ladies visited the Coral Nursery on the dive site ‘The Bridge’ and learned about cleaning and research efforts to maintain the nursery and its corals. On the second dive we conducted initial coral mapping of Elkhorn corals in the Man of War Shoal Marine Park. This type of research is very valuable to recolonize and recover corals on the reefs of St Maarten” commented Nature Foundation Projects Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
The Nature Foundation would like to remind that scuba divers need to keep their distance from the coral nursery without supervision of the Foundation, as the corals are very fragile and easy to damage.