VHL University of Applied Sciences (VHL), STENAPA, SCF, Wageningen Marine Research, CNSI and Golden Rock Dive Centre are working on nature restoration in the AROSSTA (Artificial Reefs on Saba and Statia) project by deploying artificial reefs. The project was awarded the second prize at the RAAK awards of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NOW) during their 2018 SIA Congress.
The coral reefs of the Caribbean Dutch islands of St. Eustatius and Saba are of great ecological and economic importance. However, the quality of this ecosystem has deteriorated considerably over the last few decades. The proportion of three-dimensional structure on the reef has declined due to an accumulation of threats. Key species of herbivore such as the sea urchin have disappeared due to a lack of hiding places. The result is that the reef is overgrown with algae, which pose an obstacle to the growth of new coral, preventing the restoration of the reef; the ecosystem is stuck in a downward spiral. Local nature management organisations STENAPA and SFS want to deploy artificial reefs in order to restore the ecosystem by means of “Building with Nature”.
Artificial reefs ensure an increase in three-dimensional structure. They are used more and more on a worldwide scale, but their effectiveness greatly depends on the extent to which local circumstances and objectives have been taken into account. If the reefs function properly, key species will be able to recover and it will be possible for coral to form. Nature management organisations want to know how artificial reefs can optimally contribute to the restoration of the coral reef ecosystem at St. Eustatius and on the Saba bank.
To this end, various types of artificial reefs are being built from local natural stone and commonly used reef balls. The functionality of the various types of artificial reefs is determined by investigating the settlement of sea urchins, fish and coral over a period of 18 months, and comparing these data to the natural coral reef. Once this project has been completed, it will be clear what type of artificial reef is the most suitable for both research locations. In addition, there will be clarity in terms of the effects of the material used and the impact of the application of additional hiding places on the functioning of artificial reefs. Finally, insight will be obtained into the extent to which artificial reefs contribute to the restoration of adjoining areas. Because the research is carried out in two locations, with contrasting circumstances, the results will be of regional importance for the proper functioning of existing and future artificial reefs. The AROSSTA project brings the possibility of the effective recovery of coral reef ecosystems an important step closer.
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Download the publication Kick-off projects to restore nature on St. Eustatius (pdf) and watch the videos below: