Last month Suzanne (Palmer) attended the Association of Caribbean Marine Laboratories (AMLC) 37th Scientific Meeting which was held at the Carmabi Research Station in Curaçao. Curaçao is one of the three islands that form the Netherland Antilles (the other two being Bonaire and Aruba).
Conference presentation: Suzanne had the opportunity to present the results of the 2014 coral reef assessment of the Portland Bight Protected Area (south coast of Jamaica) which was funded by a Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grant. There was a good response to the talk and surprise over some of the results, for example, the reasonable condition of the corals and relatively high density of fish, but extremely low fish biomass when compared regionally. This was interesting to a number of coral reef scientists who have largely been based at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab and so are more familiar with the reefs on the north coast of Jamaica. The conference offered the opportunity to inform international marine scientists on the importance of the Portland Bight Protected Area, the status and presence of the coral reefs in the PBPA, and why there needs to be continued protection (and not developed as a transhipment hub/port).
The conference provided an excellent opportunity to network with people working on coral reefs in the Caribbean Region and it is anticipated that a number of interesting collaborations have been created. Interestingly, ~50% of participants to the Association of Caribbean Marine Laboratories conference were in fact from the U.S., and so would like to hope that there are strong links between the US scientists and the Caribbean Region beyond fieldwork.
Coral reefs around the Netherland Antilles
Diving around Curaçao and Bonaire was initially surprising after spending the past few years in Jamaica due to the size and number of reef fish. The parrotfish are enormous (compared to Jamaica) and the fish do not appear too bothered by divers so there is a real chance to observe their behavior! Bonaire’s coral reefs have some of the highest coral cover in the region (e.g. 2010 report) and often described as some of the last ‘healthy’ reefs in the region, however, like many other Caribbean reefs they are not without their problems and challenges (e.g. Report after 2010 coral bleaching event). Bonaire comprises mainly shore dives and is referred to as “Divers Paradise” – which is also written on the islands vehicle registration plates! You don’t see too many fishing boats like many other Caribbean islands, and tourism is extremely important to these small islands (Curacao and Bonaire are very small islands – together their total area represents ~7% of the area of Jamaica!).
A couple of things we found interesting on our trip to Curaçao (after living in Jamaica 5+ years):
Multiple languages spoken
In Curaçao a number of languages are spoken with Dutch being the official language used for admin and legal use, and the most widely spoken being Papiamento which is a Portuguese creole language – it has a real Spanish/South American sound to it.
Curaçao’s Floating Market
The whole island reminded us of the Hellshire Hills dry limestone forest in Jamaica with lots of cactus & not too hospitable for growing fresh produce! The Floating Market in Willemstad comprises colorful boats from Venezuela and Columbia lined up providing fresh fruit and vegetables to the local market.
Iguanas are everywhere
In Jamaica we are familiar hearing about the critically endangered Jamaican iguana and reading about the fantastic work of the various groups who have been fundamental in saving and protecting this species. So when we arrived in Curaçao and iguanas were strolling around the garden, across roads, and referred to as nuisances….and are on the menu (!), we were rather surprised!
Certainly an interesting trip and provided some insight into the cultural, economic, and environmental diversity between Caribbean islands.