Identifying opportunities for future monitoring, research and management of Bonaire’s National Marine Park

Twenty-nine marine scientists and practitioners came together to share their thoughts on the status of Bonaire’s coral reefs and to explore current and future monitoring, research and management strategies for the Bonaire National Marine Park.

The MaCoBioS team was excited to be in Bonaire last week to run a workshop on “Science-driven management in the Bonaire National Marine Park: Actions, Challenges and Opportunities”. The workshop, held on 26th January 2023, was co-organised with Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire (STINAPA), the organisation that manages Bonaire’s nature parks on behalf of the Bonairian government.

Our goal was to bring together a diversity of scientists and practitioners working to monitor and/or manage marine life in the Bonaire National Marine Park to discuss ecosystem condition and reasons for this, explore gaps in scientific monitoring, and identify opportunities for future collaborations.

This interactive workshop had a great turnout, gathering 29 participants, including MPA practitioners, scientists and representatives of local government, non-governmental organisations, and local fishermen. This group was small enough to encourage dialogue and participation but large enough to be inclusive and have meaningful discussions. We started the day with presentations from STINAPA, MaCoBioS (University of Exeter and Wageningen University), Reef Renewal, Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire and Mangrove Maniacs. This presented the opportunity for MaCoBioS to share results from some of the fieldwork we have been undertaking and a chance to have lively discussions with local stakeholders about the threats facing marine ecosystems and what science we need to better inform management of the marine park.

Conversations highlighted the challenging outlook for coral reef ecosystems, particularly under climate change. The most important threats people felt coral reefs faced were from water quality, coastal development, invasive species, and extreme weather. Minimising direct impacts from human activities was considered by all to be key to improving the resilience of reefs, helping them have the best outlook possible. Overall it was felt that management efforts through the long-standing Bonaire National Marine Park have helped Bonaire’s coral reefs to remain among the healthiest in the Caribbean. However, all agreed that monitoring and evaluating actions centered around collaboration, partnerships and local engagement were key to inform dynamic and adaptive response strategies to future challenges. There was a clear consensus that for science and management to “make the dream work” it was critical to embed Bonairian culture and locals into science and management to ensure a shared vision and enhance capacity.

We learnt a lot from everyone who joined us from across Bonaire and would like to thank all those who made our workshop a success by enthusiastically sharing their ideas and experiences.

Text by Bethan O’Leary

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