On October 10, the Dutch Antilles will be dissolved and the islands of Bonaire, St. Eustatius (Statia), and Saba will become part of the Netherlands. This article from a Dutch university’s website considers the consequences of this geo-political transformation for environmental management:
Dolfi Debrot is waiting with bated breath to find out how the Washington-Slagbaai National Park on Bonaire has survived the fire at oil storage company Bopac, which went on for weeks. ‘Rumour has it that a great deal of soot has descended on the surrounding nature areas. Research is being done on that now’, says Debrot, for whom the fire demonstrates that environmental management on the island is behind the times, and that the oil industry carries high risks. ‘A good emergency plan is needed. The Dutch Antilles, of which Bonaire is still a part, have not got round to that because of a general shortage of capacity.’
From 10 October, this will be the Netherlands’ problem. Due to constitutional reform, on that date the Dutch Antilles – currently an autonomous country within the kingdom – will break up. Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (known as the BES islands) will become part of the Netherlands. This means the Netherlands taking responsibility for the welfare of 20,000 new citizens, 15,000 of them on Bonaire, as well as for thousands of new species of plants and animals. These are species of a totally different kind than people are used to in the Netherlands: mangroves rather than pines, the clear tropical ocean rather than the murky North Sea.
‘The coral reefs on Bonaire are the most beautiful in the whole of the Caribbean’, Debrot declares. ‘Sadly though, the corals there are also affected by coral bleaching, probably caused by a combination of water pollution, warming, and acidification of seawater. But if coral reefs can be saved anywhere, it is on Bonaire’, Debrot believes. ‘Of course we cannot do much on the spot about things like rising temperatures, but the Netherlands must remove the local stress factors for the coral as far as possible. And people are working on that. There is a sewage treatment plant under construction, there are fish reserves and there is going to be an area with restrictions on the anchoring of ships. Their anchors tear the reef apart.’
Tropical marine biologist Dolfi Debrot (51) lived for years on the Antilles as director of the Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity foundation. Last spring he moved on to Imares in Den Helder in the Netherlands. He is also a member of a workgroup that has been asked by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) to study the coastal waters around the BES islands. This area is known as the Exclusive Economic Zone, an expanse of sea, extending to about 370 kilometres from the coast, in which the Netherlands has exclusive fishing and mineral rights.
Together with the tropical team at Imares, the workgroup is inventorying what needs to happen on the BES island and which laws, treaties and protocols apply there. ‘We are also looking at issues such as rising temperatures and sea levels, which have consequences both for the ecosystems on land and for the coral reefs, and therefore also for tourism and coastal defense.’
[Photo: Serge Melki]