The coral reefs in the Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) are under pressure. This not only has major consequences for the biodiversity but also for the economic prosperity of the islands. The Cabinet is allocating 7.2 million euros to halt deterioration and to restore coral reefs. This is what Minister Schouten of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality wrote today, also on behalf of Minister Van Veldhoven for the Environment and Housing, and State Secretary Knops for the Interior and Kingdom Relations, in a letter to the House of Representatives.
The corals in the Caribbean Netherlands are threatened by erosion and water contamination. The erosion is mainly caused by over 40,000 free grazing goats (and other grazers like donkeys). The surface sand ends up in the sea and subsequently damages the coral. In order to prevent this, goat farming is being professionalised, which includes rearing goats in confinement. Measures are also being taken to prevent the washing and leaching of waste water. The waste water currently often leaches into the sea together with nutrients like phosphate and nitrate. This boosts the growth of algae, which subsequently overgrow the corals.
At the same time there is a promising development for coral. Recent research has shown that it is possible to plant and grow elkhorn coral and staghorn coral, two important types for the habitat of different types of fish. This research will be expanded extensively.
The protection of coral is one of the elements of the Nature and Environment Policy Plan Caribbean Netherlands which was drawn up in collaboration with the islands and is valid for the next ten years. The plan also covers the protection of natural areas and species, and the sustainable use of land and water. Sustainable fisheries and agriculture can contribute to the improvement of environmental protection and economic prosperity in the Caribbean Netherlands. A plan will therefore be prepared this year aimed at organising local fisheries in such a way that fish stocks will remain stable in 2030. In addition, efforts are being made for more sustainable forms of agriculture such as a hydroponics farm in Saba (where less water is needed to produce food, among others).
In 2017 Wageningen University & Research (WUR) published the report titled ‘Staat van de natuur van Caribisch Nederland’ (State of Nature of the Caribbean Netherlands). The latest report of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) also discussed the biodiversity objectives in the Caribbean. The conclusions of both reports were clear: additional actions is required. This action is specified in the Nature and Environment Policy Plan Caribbean Netherlands 2020-2030. It will not only benefit nature. Nature tourism and fisheries annually yield the islands approximately 150 million euros, which accounts for a substantial part of the gross domestic product (GDP).