Sponge Relocation Salt Pier – Stinapa Bonaire National Parks Foundation


Sponge Relocation Salt Pier

The Salt Pier, loved by divers for its rich diversity of marine life, is in need of maintenance. In September, the 150 plus pilings supporting the pier will be scraped to a depth of one meter below the water surface and reinforced with heavy-duty ‘sleeves’. Attached to these enormous columns you see thriving colonies of beautifully colored sponges of different sizes and shapes. From yellow to purple, from small to big, these animals provide food and shelter to numerous reef fish, brittle stars and shrimp. So what’s going to happen to them? Equipped with hammers and chisels, dive gear and a strong devotion to Nature, STINAPA and a group of volunteers will remove these sponges and re-attach them with fishing line a few meters down on the same pilings, thus ensuring their survival. These colorful organisms may be a great addition to your underwater photographs, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. For example, did you know that over 100 species of animals were found living inside a single tubular reef sponge? Yes, they are VERY biodiverse and therefore important.

Every day, sponges filter seawater, up to 50,000 times their own volume! As filter feeders, they eat microscopic organisms called plankton, organic debris and they also collect bacteria. Nitrogen (N), present in many forms, both “good” and “bad”, is a very important nutrient found in the water, but at high concentrations it becomes harmful to the environment. Sponges and specific types of bacteria (cyanobacteria) share a positive relationship called “endosymbiosis” that benefits both partners. While receiving protection from the sponge, cyanobacteria convert nitrogen gas into a useful form of nitrogen which is then absorbed by the sponge. Thanks to this process, harmful levels of “bad” nitrogen are lowered, which is great for coral reefs.

Sponges are also known to be fierce competitors for space where coral reefs represent their “battlefields”. When it comes to reef conservation, things like ocean acidification, rising seawater temperature and coral bleaching are hot topics. Sponges, too, may pose a threat. In their search for space, a group of sponges called boring (burrowing) sponges, attack corals by slowly creating deep grooves through them and robbing them of space and nutrients, eventually leading to the corals’ demise. Fortunately though, many sponge species (non-burrowing) do quite the opposite. They help connect different coral colonies together both in shallow and deep waters, which strengthens the reef structure and reduces coral loss by wave action and other factors. No wonder some scientists consider using these sponges to aid in coral restoration projects!

So, with some hard work and a dedicated team of volunteers, life for these marine organisms will go on. Cargill will have its pier renovated and the sponges will continue to live and flourish just a few meters deeper. Sounds like a good compromise between Man and Nature, don’t you think? If you are a diver and would like to be a volunteer for this project, please send your contact details to: nature@stinapa.org. Thank you!

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