Coral Reef Research by Floris and Laura

Diving is fun! We could be cruising along the reef watching the wondrous marine life all day every day. Two divers who are often seen grabbing tanks at Dive Friends Bonaire are Laura and Floris, two biology students from Amsterdam. They dive with a slightly different purpose: research! Get to know them and their story in this blog. Thank you, Floris and Laura, for writing this!

“We are diving with Dive Friends while doing research for Wageningen Marine Research in cooperation with STINAPA. We’ve met a lot of divers, snorkelers and other kind people that were very interested in our project. It’s always nice to see that other people are interested in what you’re passionate about. So we were happy when we were asked to write something about our research.

As most divers probably noticed, coral reefs communities have changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Especially divers that have been diving for a long time might have seen a shift from coral-dominated reefs to algae-dominated reefs. Research suggest this is mostly because of different human activities including pollution, global warming and overfishing.

While most research only considered the shift from coral to algae, now there seems to be a “new” group that is quickly increasing in abundance and might be a problem: benthic cyanobacterial mats. I say “new” since they are not actually new on the reef. Cyanobacteria are, just like coral, fish and algae, an essential part of a healthy coral reef.

However, these same cyanobacteria can also form thick slimy mats and rapidly increase in abundance. In some places the cyanobacterial mats increased from less than 1% of the reef cover to over 20%. Cyanobacterial mats can suffocate coral or other organisms, inhibit coral settlement and they are known to act as coral pathogens. Pollution, increasing nutrient concentrations and the increase in water temperature are thought to be among the main drivers of the increase of these cyanobacterial mats. However, their dynamics as not entirely understood.

That’s why we started different experiments around the island to try to better understand what drives the observed increase in cyanobacteria and how their abundance changes throughout the season. We also try to understand where and how fast they grow. Gaining a better understanding of why and where cyanobacterial mats grow might help in managing these mats in the future and help to protect the reef.

If you see us working on one of the Dive Friends locations or on any of the other dive sites, feel free to ask any questions. We will be happy to tell you everything about our research in more detail!”