PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The St Maarten Nature Foundation started their queen conch (Lobatus gigas) research with a survival experiment to determine if the survival of juvenile queen conchs, which in many parts of the Caribbean are primarily associated with native seagrass beds, differs between native (T. testudinum) versus invasive seagrass (H. stipulacea). The Nature Foundation is collaborating with and supported by Ecological Professionals, Wageningen University and the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute for this project (CNSI). The project is funded by Statia Terminals, NuStar Energy L.P. and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs (EZ).
The invasive seagrass H. stipulacea is native to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and was first sighted in Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean in 2002 and subsequently recorded on Sint Maarten in 2011. The species has since spread rapidly throughout the Eastern Caribbean. The invasive seagrass is known to be more competitive, have higher production rates and be less sensitive to environmental disturbance than native seagrass and is expected to spread even further throughout the region in the coming years. Current information regarding the effects off the invasive seagrass on our marine life and their survival, including juvenile queen conch, is very limited.
“The queen conch has a high cultural and economic value for local people and is an iconic species in the Caribbean region. However, the species has been heavily exploited throughout large parts of its natural range which has resulted in concerns for the species’ future. A critical part of the survival of the species is determined by the success of juveniles which often use native seagrass beds. Therefore it is important to gain more information into the ecological function of the invasive seagrass and its effects on the life history of queen conch in order to be able to implement the necessary management actions if required. With this specific research we will compare the survival of juvenile conchs in native versus invasive seagrass beds” stated conch scientist PhD candidate Erik Boman from St Eustatius.
The Nature Foundation is looking forward to a successful collaboration and in determining whether invasive seagrass can cause a change in survival of juveniles and affect the regrowth of the conch population on St Maarten. The results will be of great importance into what possible effects invasive seagrass can have for the resilience of queen conch populations in the wider Caribbean.