Unfortunately the wind gods weren’t very happy at all during our stay in Aruba. This meant our survey locations had to be selected based on whether or not they had a protected entry and exit point for us to use. Aruban reefs are dominated by star corals (Montastrea); especially abundant is the boulder star coral (aka Montastrea Annularis). These massive shapes provide structurally interesting reefs.
Unfortunately a large part of our surveys showed only the remnants of these huge coral colonies and an associated coral reef community struggling to hang on. Nevertheless, there was still a lot of marine life in terms of soft corals, sponges and reef fish, albeit a sparsity of large pelagic fish. Particular coral species such as the pencil coral Madracis Mirabilis and brain corals seemed to be better off and we were amazed by the many hawksbill sea turtles we saw during one survey, at least 15, and some giant green moray eels. Most strikingly were the plentiful juvenile fish that roamed the sea, an indicator that these reefs are ecologically important.
It’s a big concern that the reefs of Aruba aren’t currently protected, especially because we have clear evidence of the great potential of these reefs in terms of the massive structures that are still present today. If anything, reefs in such peril need the protection that can be provided by a marine park, to assist them in their recovery against all odds.
To close off the Shallow Reef expedition on a happy note we dived the 'Antilla', a wreck that sunk 73 years ago and is a popular local dive site. The wreck provides a haven for all sorts of fish both small and large, including numerous curious barracudas. Sponges and ascidians were plentiful on this wreck and garden eels were guarding the shipwreck from only a few metres away. Now it comes time once again to download and back up all of our collected data before we clean and pack down all of our equipment ready for the long trip back to Australia.
A big thanks to all those that have kept us safe and assisted our survey team here in the Caribbean; special mention to the crew of Dive Charter Curacao, Niels, Bill and Alex who guided us and our equipment safely to all our sites and have been a great help with the deployment of the equipment. We are also very thankful to the many people and institutes that have helped to make this expedition successful; our awesome volunteer Anna Herrera, the people from the CARMABI research station on Curaçao and especially Mark Vermeij, Bruce and Barbara from the Substation Curaçao, the CIEE research station on Bonaire and Rita and Mark from Marine Ecology Expeditions, Ramon de Leon from the Bonaire National Marine Park, STINAPA, Mabel Nava from Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire and Barry Brown from coralreefphotos.com.