Volume 71

Sargassum: Impact on Tourism and Fisheries and Its Cascading Effects on Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

Sabine Engel
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Date: November, 2018

Pages: 317-318

Event: Proceedings of the Seventy Annual Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute

City: San Andres Island

Country: Colombia


Just north of Venezuela lies Bonaire, a small island approximately 12.16o N and 68.25oW. Tourism is the pillar of the economy. Although small to medium Sargassum landing events are not unusual, the frequency as well as the amount of Sargassum has increased in recent years throughout the Caribbean. There are two major lagoons on the east coast: Lagun and Lac Bay, the latter being a Ramsar site as well as an Important Bird Area. Lac Bay is a hotspot for tourism (windsurfing as well as beach recreation), is an important foraging area for green turtles and is an important nurseries for fish and invertebrates in the Dutch Caribbean. The periodic influx of Sargassum has direct and indirect effect on the beaches, flora, and fauna of the bays. Due to the extractive manner of current removal methods, Lac bay may have less appeal for tourists as beaches become more and more eroded. When Sargassum piled up in the shallows, fish, conch, turtles, crabs, lobster, worms, and many infaunal creatures died. In areas where it was not removed immediately, it decomposed, causing further damage. Seagrass short shoots experienced sloughing and rhizomes completely died in some of the impacted areas. A total of 29 ha (11%) of seagrass was heavily affected. The foliage of mangroves in an area of 70 ha (30%) of mangrove area turned yellow but have since recovered. In the mangrove forest is a network of small creeks and lagoons that have an important nursery function. A degraded habitat will have less nursery functions, food sources for flamingoes and diversity of other foraging animals. The cascading effects of Sargassum landings are in altering the habitat. In 2010 the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea was found on Bonaire. Monitoring has shown a decrease in cover of the native species in favor of the invasive species; open spaces are more readily recolonized with the invasive species that offers inferior ecosystem services.

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