St Eustatius National Marine Park

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Chapter 4. ECOLOGICAL CRITERIA

(Guidelines and Criteria Section B/ Ecological Criteria) Nominated areas must conform to at least one of the eight ecological criteria. Describe how the nominated site satisfies one or more of the following criteria. (Attach in Annex any relevant supporting documents.)

Representativeness:


The Statia National Marine Park contains corals that have colonized the range of volcanic substrates present, including bombs, lava blocks and solidified lava flows shaped like 'fingers'. The reef types can be referred to as fringing reef, patch reefs, spur and groove which occur in most of the volcanic island of the region. And then there are also artifiical reefs. There are also seagrass beds within the boundaries of the Marine Park.

Around the reefs you will find, amongst many others, colourful Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Surgeonfish, Parrotfish and Groupers, whereas on the edges of the reef plentiful species include Jacks, Snappers, Grunts and Barracudas. This abundance is mainly thanks to the actively managed marine park, with no fishing zones that creates a spill-over effect through the whole area.

There is a foraging population of green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles. Humpback whales pass through the Marine Park on their migration route from January to April. Whale sharks , hammerheads and manta rays also pass by and have been seen by divers.

Because the marine park encompasses the entire island to a depth of 30 meters, it contains all marine ecosystems of the island and the most sensitive ones (croal reef) are well protected in the marine reserve areas. The coral reef and the seagrass commujnties are representative of the coral reefs and seagrass communities in the northeastern Caribbean islands.

Conservation value:


The St Eustatius National Marine Park contributes to the conservation of multiple species, subspecies and populations of flora and fauna present within its boundaries due to the presence of two no-take reserves within the boundaries.

There are studies underway which show for example that within the Marine Park boundaries there is seasonal settling of spiny lobster (panilirus argus) larvae as well as mating Queen Conch (Strombus gigas) which are commercially threatened in other areas of the Caribbean. Marine mammals and endangered sea turtles are protected year round within the boundaries of the Marine Park and in the territorial waters of the island.

Lobsters within the no-take zones have been shown to be larger than outside the no-take zones. Such large lobsters produce disproportionally larger amounts of larvae.

 

Rarity:


The coral reef habitats found within The St. Eustatius National Marine Park have been depleted across their range throughout the wider Caribbean. Coral reefs and seagrass beds are globally threatened by anthropogenic stresses.

The Zeelandia beach area is the only nesting beach in the Caribbean Neteherlands for endangered Leatherback turtles. Critically endangered hawksbill seaturtles forage on the sponges occurring in the marine park and endangerd green turtels feed on the seagrass communities in the park.

Many other vulnerable or endangered species find refuge in the no-take zones of the St. Eustatius National Marine Park, such as the Nassau Grouper and the Cubera Snapper.

Naturalness:


Within the Marine Park are two reserves, the Northern reserve and the southern reserve. Together, as is optimal, they make up just about 20% of the St Eustatius National Marine Park. These two reserves have been designated since 1996 and have been actively managed for 18 years. There are moorings to prevent anchoring and any activities within these reserves are supervised by dive professionals.

Because of the relative distance from shore, a boat is needed to get out to the reefs. Also because of the distance events such as large runoffs due to heavy rain do not disturb the reefs in the reserves. There is no access to the Northern reserve unless by boat and there are no dwellings in the north of the island which keeps the area relatively protected form human influence. 

Combined with the relatively small number of inhabitants of the island, low fishing pressure, and limited coastal development, the marine ecosystems around the island have been disturbed very little.

Critical habitats:


The coral reef and the seagrass areas provide cirtical foraging habitat for populations of green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles. Humpback whales pass through the Marine Park on their migration route from January to April. Whale sharks , hammerheads and manta rays also pass by and have been seen by divers.

One of the many wrecks located in the park, named the Chien Tong and sunk in 2004, isa preferred habitat for the endangered sea turtles that forage in the local waters. The wreck is used as a sleeping area at night and as many as 40 sea turtles can be counted resting or sleeping in and on it in a single dive.

The seagrass beds are not only feeding grounds for green turtles but are also critical habitat for juvenile Queen Conch. The marine park is also home to a healthy populaton of Queen conch with high densities per hectare.

Diversity:


The marine environment in St Eustatius is home to four important ecosystems: coral reefs, sea grass, beaches and open ocean. The coral reef types are fringing reefs, patch reefs, spur and grooves and artificial reefs with a high level of rugosity. Sea grasses form an important habitat for certain fish and shellfish and a nursery ground for juvenile reef and ocean fish. The fish diversity can be significant in sea grass meadows. The marine habitats of St Eustatius have different species zonation within them and play a wider role in the well-being of the coast by providing a range of ecological services.

When diving in Statia’s waters you will find yourself amidst an abundance of marine life. The fish population has increased dramatically over the last 18 years since the marine park was established, benefiting both scuba divers and Statia’s small group of fishermen.

Besides fish, many other creatures can be found inhabiting the reefs of Statia. There are Queen conch, Spiny lobster, different species of shrimp such as cleaner shrimp and Pederson’s among others, octopus, starfish, long spine sea urchins, brittle stars, etc. Southern sting rays, Spotted eagle rays and schools of squids swim by. If you look closely you can spot a seahorse or a frogfish staying still among the gorgonians or on the reef. Three types of sharks you are most likely to come across in Statia are the Black tip Reef Shark, the Grey Reef Shark and the Nurse Shark. Although larger sharks such as hammerheads and whale sharks are spotted throughout the year.

 

Dolphins are always seen within the park and can be heard quite often when diving. Sea Turtles are undisturbed and are therefore unafraid of divers who have the privilege of getting quite close to watch them forage. 


In adddition to the known species, the marine park harbors many species that have not yet been identified and may well include new undescribed species. Becasue of the variety of habitats in the park the total number of species may be expected to be large. The rocky shores of the park have never been surveyed and harbor an unkonw number of species, including the West-Indian topshell or whelk (Cittarium pica).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Connectivity/coherence:


The Marine park is located on St Eustatius which is within the island chain of the Eastern Caribbean. The island as well as its neighbors are affected by the Antillean current and the Caribbean current with a northward jet almost 100 km wide. Larvae of corals, fish, mollusks, lobsters, etc. arrive from other islands, or originate on St Eustatius and form a source of recruitment for the neighbouring islands.

The Marine Park is situated close to the Saba Bank which has been formally been designated a "Particularly Sensitive Sea Area" (PSSA). Also the Marine Park borders the French Antilles Agoa marine mammal sanctuary and works closely with them. This in effect creates a corridor for the Humpback whale migration north and south. The waters of the St Eustatius national marine park are known to be on the migratory route of Humpback whales.

The sea turtles nesting on the Zeelandia Beach come from all over the region, possibly grew up in the sargassum sea, then found a home in the shallow seas somewhere in the Caribbean before coming back to St. Eustatius to lay their eggs. The Leatherbacks nesting on the beach may even originate from the Northern atlantic. The green turtles and hawksbills that feed in the marine park have been born on other islands all over the region.

 

 

Resilience:


Because of the small population of the island, human impacts on the marine ecosystems of theisalnd are very limited. There is little pollution or overfishing, and consequently the habitats and ecosystems in the St. Eustatius national marine park are considered to be relatively resilient.