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Thank you for your interest in Dutch Caribbean Nature.  We have integrated this blog into our new website at http://www.dcnanature.org



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DCNA working to spread conservation message

The message about the importance of nature conservation needs to reach more people, and the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) is working to be sure that it does.

Communication Team hard at work brainstorming new strategies

DCNA, an umbrella organisation representing the parks of the six Dutch Caribbean islands, brought together a team of specialists in communications and nature conservation from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the islands of the Dutch Caribbean to plan ways to spread the word.

Over two days last week, the group helped the nongovernmental organization by planning ways to promote DCNA’s purpose — safeguarding nature in the Dutch Caribbean. The team developed information that will be used to create a strategic plan for DCNA’s communications and outreach efforts over the next several years.

Formed six years ago when the national parks on St. Eustatius were threatened with closure due to lack of funding, DCNA since has helped build a sustainable financial future for the parks while supporting efforts to build capacity for conservation. DCNA has offered a structure for the island parks’ staffs to work together in significant areas, including creating a central repository of information about nature and conservation, developing a regional nature education programme for youth, and improving bird and sea turtle conservation efforts across the islands.

“Local nature conservation organizations and park management bodies have done an exceptional job of managing and protecting nature on the islands, within limited resources and with many challenges,” said Kalli De Meyer, DCNA executive director. “Our next job is to make sure that people understand and can support this work.”

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BES parks funding at stake

KRALENDIJK — With five newly designated National Parks as of last week, the Island Governments of Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius are now finalizing their project lists for the €10 million funding allocation for nature that the Dutch government has reserved for 2013.

The Director General with Saba Conservation Foundation officially establishing the Saba Marine Park and the Saba Bank as Dutch National Parks. Photo from SCF.

The non-profit nature conservation community, including the park management organisations, which has taken the lead on nature conservation on the islands for years is awaiting an opportunity to offer input.

“This is a particularly sensitive time for nature conservation on the islands,” said Kalli De Meyer, Executive Director of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides a united voice for the conservation organizations of the Dutch Caribbean. “There has been little or no dialogue between the Island Governments and the local nature conservation organisations and park management bodies who have successfully managed island conservation efforts for decades.”

The Director General of Nature and Regional Policy for the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Annemie Burger, last week called for cooperation among local and national entities working to improve nature conservation on the islands. Her remarks were made at DCNA headquarters to a packed room of conservationists, including representatives of STINAPA Bonaire, Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, Echo, Project Green Bonaire, and Coral Restoration.

Nature conservation organizations of Bonaire presenting their work to the Ministry.

“Our ecosystem and our economy can gain by people and a society which care for the ecosystem,” said Director General Annemie Burger. “What you do as NGOs is extremely important in that process. Cooperation between NGOs, stakeholders, knowledge institutions and the government (is essential). We as a government have a responsibility and a role, and I will do my utmost to make it possible for you to do your work.”

De Meyer pointed out that the NGOs’ work has led to healthier reefs around the Dutch islands than in many parts of the Caribbean. Coral reefs are facing the cumulative effects of overfishing and development, she noted, and the islands’ ecosystems are intrinsic to the physical and economic well being of every resident.

Burger concurred in her remarks. “It is my belief that economy and ecology are two sides of the same coin,” she said. “A sustainable economy is impossible if we don’t preserve our ecosystem.”

The Ministry delegation with Saba Conservation Foundation and the new marine park boat named after DCNA Patron, her Majesty Queen Beatrix.

De Meyer said that using the NGOs’ experience and supporting their work are key to continuing that preservation.

“We were heartened by this show of support from the Director General,” De Meyer said. “Based on the Director General’s comments, we are now very hopeful that our perspectives and input will be respected and will find a place in this process of allocating funds for nature conservation in 2013.”

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Pope’s Head Cactus

Our spotlight moves from an impressive beast of the deep to dry land with a highlight on one of the Caribbean’s most personable succulents, the Pope’s Head Cactus (Melocactus intortus). Its genus name is Melocactus, meaning “melon cactus”, referring to its short, round, watermelon-like base. The most interesting part of this plant however, is the strange, red, bristly “cap” (called a cephalium), which grows out the top of the green base and can reach heights of up to 1 meter! Using your imagination, one can really see a green “head” topped with a tall, red, clergical “hat”.

Pope’s Head Cactus on the coast of St. Maarten

This cactus can be found clinging to rocks in some of the drier, less hospitable climes throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America. It’s quite a common sight while hiking in the scrublands of both the Windward and Leeward islands, though different species inhabit the northern and southern ranges. This particular specimen comes to us from St. Maarten.

As if its spiny hat was not enough, the pope’s head cactus also sprouts tiny, fuchsia flowers from its cephalium. These flowers give way to bright pink, waxy, cone-shaped fruits. The fruits are edible and have the seedy consistency of a crunchy kiwi, though their flavor is quite light. Lovely to look at and delightful to taste, but do remember to mind their sharp spines and leave enough fruit for the plants to procreate.

The next time you are having a wander through our starkly beautiful sub-tropical dry forests, don’t forget to look down and admire the quirky and stout pope’s head cactus.

Photo credit: Henkjan Kievit © SHAPE/DCNA 2012
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The Great Barracuda

Some of you may not know that the Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) is also known as the Giant Barracuda. This is because Great Barracudas can grow over 1.5 m and can weigh up to 23 kg.

Sphyraena barracuda

A close encounter with a Great Barracuda in Saba

The Great Barracuda occurs throughout the Caribbean. They are usually solitary predators and can be seen floating above coral reefs or hanging over drop-offs. In Florida they can even be found in very shallow waters.  Barracudas are classic open water hunters and use a “lie-in-wait” hunting tactic. The barracudas confuse prey with light reflection from their dorsal and ventral colour dymanics. The trick lies in a simple form of camouflage – barracudas exemplify the countershading effects in large predatory fish – blending into the darkness below when seen from above and into the light from surface illumination when seen from below.

The Great Barracuda has quite a reputation because of its curiousity and fearsome appearance – with formidable looking teeth that can make divers and snorkellers think twice about entering the water.

Sphyraena barracuda

Barracuda photographed from below in the Saban reef drop-off

Fortunately attacks by Great Barracuda are very rare and most occur in mucky waters with poor visibility. Barracuda are attracted to shiny objects. This is because shiny objects can look like small silvery fishes, which of course triggers the barracuda’s hunting instinct.

As a top reef predator, the barracuda’s diet is made up mostly of a variety of fishes, but can also include species of octopuses and squids, and of course, once in a while unlucky shrimp.

While they can be found throughout the Dutch Caribbean, very large specimens occur on St. Eustatius, Saba and St. Maarten, where they are not harvested. Here they have been disregarded as a commercial fish because of the bioaccumulation of ciguatera toxin, which naturally originates from plankton and can become concentrated as it moves up the food chain.  Where present, ciguatera toxicity levels can become dangerous for human consumption in top predators like barracuda. So, luckily for the Great Barracuda they are firmly off the menu in the Windward islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.

Photo Credit: Hans Leijnse (c) SHAPE/DCNA 2012
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10 things I learned about Bonaire

Sea view from 1000 steps: Hannah French admiring the blue sea and sky.

By Hannah French

1. What blue looks like, really. English doesn’t have enough words to describe the many shades of blue that exist in Bonaire. We’re limited to cerulean, cobalt, azure, indigo, turquoise, and navy. But there should be so many more than that to describe Bonaire.

I enjoyed the Bonaire sea waters – also known as diver’s paradise.

2. How turtles hatch. Seemingly an endless number; tiny and confused as they push up through the sand and pull themselves across the beach, instinctively heading to sea.

A nest on the move! Natural instinct takes over – sea turtle hatchlings ready to make it for the sea.

3. That some fish have teeth — and they look like massive teeth. I had an unfortunate encounter with a rather large fish that may have wanted my nose as its next meal.

An example of a large predatory reef fish with big teeth.

4. Magnificent Frigatebirds can remain in the air for a very long time. Months, in fact. When they land, they tend to do so at sea. I only saw one frigatebird as a result, and was very lucky to get a picture of it.

Fregata magnificens

The Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) is a seabird than can remain aloft for a long time, scanning the surroundings for any fishing bird to snatch its catch.

5. Eels are really, really cool. I saw several eels washed by the waves into tidepools. Surprisingly, they don’t all scream: “I want to electrocute you!”

They come in many cool varieties.

Moral Eel

Moray Eel lurking at the sea bottom standing at bay within the rocks.

6. Corals are animals. They get food from photosynthetic algae that cling to them for shelter. The algae also give the coral its color.

Acropora palmata

Snorkelling on the reef is a great experience – you can see different kinds of corals. Photo: Elkhorn Coral

7. Bonaire protects its environment. Even in Lac Bay, the world capitol of wind surfing, everyone was extra careful to avoid stepping on the seagrass beds, which were carefully marked for everyone to see. We all contribute to helping preserve the environment.

Seagrass beds serves as a habitat for marine organisms such as Queen Conchs and must not be disturbed.

8. Bonaire hasn’t quite caught up on recycling. We took batteries home to help out, but had to leave a lot of plastic behind and paper that normally we would recycle at home.

Recycling is an option to reduce trash. Though there are clean-up campaigns, the trash is simply a waste. Investment is much needed on recycling programmes.

9. Bonaire’s environment contributes to medical research to create sedatives and medicines. Things like pufferfish toxin, which can cause paralysis in large amounts, are used to help create painkillers.

I also learned that the reef’s ecosystem can be a treasure of natural biochemicals that can renovate medicine to a more organic-based pharmaceuticals.

10. DCNA people are the best! I had opportunities to snorkel and sail, to visit Washington Slagbaai National Park with the Junior Rangers, and to connect with the Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire to guard baby turtles as they made their way to the sea

I had the chance to join the Junior Rangers from Bonaire (on my left) and the Netherlands (Laura Peters on my right). We had a chance to explore the island’s national terrestrial. protected area.

Thanks, everyone, for making Bonaire such a wonderful place to be.

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Emilio Wilson Estate: Ecological Value

Panoramic view from the Emilio Wilson Estate

Development on St. Maarten has taken place at an unsustainable pace, many local nongovernmental organizations agree. The island is the last in the Dutch Caribbean not to have a terrestrial protected area.

“Politicians don’t seem to realize that one of the reason tourists come is because of the green areas, the beaches and the beautiful hills,” commented Rueben Thompson, a member of the boards of the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation and of Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. “Of course they want restaurants and casinos, but they like to lie down on the beaches. … Some on St. Maarten seem to equate development with economic growth. Not every piece of concrete poured is a sign of progress.”

Flamboyant tree and flag of St. Maarten at the Emilio Wilson Estate

The Emilio Wilson Estate is one of the island’s last remaining authentic landscapes and one of the very few low-lying areas of St. Maarten not yet built on. All of the surrounding areas have been used for residential housing and commercial facilities.

The hillsides in the Dutch Cul de Sac area, in particular the Sentry Hill hillside (the Emilio Wilson Estate), are of considerable value to the natural environment. The top of Sentry Hill is mostly undisturbed and of high biological value.

Original and vulnerable hilltop vegetation includes a profusion of bromeliads, ferns, mosses and orchids. Semi-evergreen seasonal forest occurs in the higher parts of the estate. This area may be home to St. Maarten’s endemic plants Calyptranthes boldinghii (Myrtacaea) also known as lidflower and Galactia nummelaria (Fabaceae).

Orchids and Tillandsia’s growing on rocks. [Orchideeën en Tillandsia’s op rotsblokken groeiend]

Endemic Anguilla bank bush anole (Anolis pogus) of St. Maarten

Caves on the estate and rare forest formations are refuges for endangered and rare bird and bat species. The habitat is home to a tree lizard, the Anguilla bank bush anole (Anolis pogus) and perhaps even the grass snake, also known as the Anguilla bank racer (Alsophis rijgersmaei). Epiphytes serve as nesting places for endangered dove species.

The area is the largest remaining portion of land available for establishing a continuous nature reserve in the Dutch part of St. Maarten.

“A lot of areas have been destroyed in the name of development,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the foundation believes working with Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance to preserve the estate makes sense because the regional organization provides a framework for Dutch island nonprofit nature organizations to come together to share expertise that benefits nature conservancy throughout the Dutch Caribbean.

“When it comes to management,” Thompson said, “a co-management agreement between existing organizations on the island that have been active in their protection of the island’s natural and cultural heritage is best.”

Trail passing through St. Peter Hill

Photo Credits:
Panoramic view – Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation (c) 2012
Flamboyant tree & flag – Rueben J. Thompson (c) 2012
Orchid on slope – Marjolijn Lopes Cardozo (c) SHAPE/DCNA 2012
Tree Lizard – Marjolijn Lopes Cardozo (c) SHAPE/DCNA 2012
Trail photo – Christian König (c) SHAPE/DCNA 2012
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