A sample of some of the tools and technologies that will be employed during the Bonaire 2008 mission. Click image for larger view and image credit.

camera icon View a slideshow of the Bonaire 2008 exploration maps and automated underwater vehicle images.

Bonaire 2008: Exploring Coral Reef Sustainability with New Technologies

January 7 – 30, 2008

Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, is arguably the most pristine coral reef environment in the Caribbean. The percent coral cover is the highest and percent algal cover the lowest as compared to other Caribbean. Thus, the Bonaire reef environment represents a baseline against which we can compare other coral reefs.

Bonaire’s economy depends heavily on diving tourism, with over 31,000 scuba divers entering its waters annually. The Bonaire National Marine Park Authority oversees the administration and protection of this unique underwater resource with help from Stichting Nationale Parken Nederlandse Antillean (STINAPA), a management advisory body. Although the shallow leeward environment near Bonaire between 0 and 12 meters (m)/39 feet (ft) was mapped in the 1980s by a Dutch scientist, Dr. Fleur van Duyl, little to no survey work has been conducted on the deeper reef (60 to 100 m/197 to 328 ft) on into deeper water (100 to 300 m/328 to 646 ft). The shallow water survey (van Duyl 1985) provides a rich database against which to assess decadal changes.

A recent meeting of the International Coral Reef Initiative, an effort of the United Nations Environmental Program, identified mapping the reefs of Bonaire as a top priority in a regional context, and the territorial government of Bonaire has indicated strong support for our mapping project. Bonaire, Curacao, Las Aves, and Los Roques have recently been proposed for United Nations World Heritage Status, given the pristine marine environments and high degree of endemic species, which are those found nowhere else on the planet.

The goal of the Bonaire 2008 expedition is to survey this unique environment over a greater depth range than can be reached with compressed air scuba, using three autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), technical diving, and (in a future year) a manned submersible. Scientists from the College of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the University of Delaware, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are leading the expedition. We also have help from the Island Government of Bonaire, scientists at the National Oceanography Centre, United Kingdom, and two makers of underwater technology, Hafmynd and GeoAcoustics.

This unique mapping of the biological and physical environment will document patterns of biodiversity in both shallow and deep parts of the reef. We may discover new species. Because AUVs can "fly" in close proximity to the bottom in terrain-following mode, the AUVs will provide a superior method of imaging the bottom using such sensors as side scan sonar, multibeam sonar, and digital video as compared to towing these sensors over the reef on a sled, or using a boat at the surface. The AUVs can also simultaneously measure water currents near the bottom, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, pH, conductivity, and temperature. We will also be deploying fixed bottom instruments to measure temperature fluctuations and water currents.

Because the AUVs can work 6 to 12 hours per day, depending on survey speeds, we should also be able to map several square kilometers per day. This robot mapping effort will be ground-truthed at select spots by compressed air and trimix scuba divers using underwater video. This re-mapping of the shallow reefs of Bonaire using new tools, and the explorations into deeper water using AUV technology, will provide an important resource for this island territory in the form of a detailed snapshot of shallow and deep reefs. The shallow reef mapping will be compared to the 1985 snapshot taken by van Duyl, as well as other limited surveys by other scientists. The deeper reef mapping will serve as a new snapshot against which future explorations can compare.

This reef mapping expedition, with the geographic information system (GIS) database on bottom type, species composition, and overlying water quality, will help the Island Government of Bonaire continue to protect this unique ecosystem and help guide efforts to manage Fishing Protected Areas and marine reserves.

You can access the Ocean Explorer Bonaire 2008: Exploring Coral Reef Sustainability with New Technologies News feed here: NOAA RSS 2.0 Feed

Updates & Logs
Click images or links below for detailed mission logs and updates.

January 27 log January 27 The Bonaire 2008 team overcomes the challenge of mapping underwater microbialites — calcium carbonate mounds that result from the presence of a microbial community.
January 26 log January 26 How do you feed and support all the participants on a large mission like NOAA Bonaire 2008?

January 25 log January 25 What can you learn on a multidisciplinary expedition like Bonaire 2008? Find out as the University of Delaware's Caribbean Study Abroad Program students reflect on the experience. Part 2 of 2.
January 24 log January 24 The study abroad students reveal what it was like to be on the Bonaire expedition. Part 1 of 2.

January 23 log January 23 How does the Bonaire 2008 expedition differ from many of Ocean Explorer's other missions?

January 22 log January 22 Elkhorn coral, once prevalent around the island’s leeward coast, can now be found in only a few areas.

January 21 log January 21 The Fetch and Gavia autonomous underwater vehicles are simultaneously conducting survey missions, utilizing side scan sonar, water quality sensors, and color video cameras at various dive sites. camera icon Includes Video
January 20 log January 20 Sixteen students — mostly upperclassmen pursuing degrees in biology, geology, and environmental sciences — have come to Bonaire through the study abroad program.
January 19 log January 19 Learn why the scientific dive team is navigating by global positioning system (GPS) along a predetermined heading and conducting video transects of coral cover.

January 17 log January 17 The survey data collected by the GeoSwath sonar on the Gavia AUV provides a high-resolution side-scan sonar mosaic.

January 16 log January 16 The bathymetric sonar onboard the Gavia AUV provides an incredibly dense map of the reef structure, including the overhanging coral on the reef crest.
camera icon Includes Video
January 15 log January 15 Deploying the 165-foot-long BOA temperature array of sensors with data loggers and heavy concrete anchors is quite a project.

January 14 log January 14 A recent inductee in the Explorers Club of New York is carrying a flag that has been on expeditions since 1934.

January 13 log January 13 Students from the University of Delaware get their feet wet as they help launch the Gavia AUVs.

January 12 log January 12 The Gavia AUV team, bound for a day of field operations, load up with their two robots and support equipment. camera icon Includes Video

January 10 log January 10 The scientists are hard at work assembling and testing gear in preparation for deployment.

January 8 log January 8 The mission receives invaluable help from Ramón de Leon and Frank van Slobbe from the government of Bonaire.

January 7 log January 7 The science team prepares to scout out the island and the reefs of Bonaire and learn why they always have to be ready to improvise and adapt.

For more information on this expedition, check out an Explorer Blog:
Bonaire W08 Blog exit icon External Link, an account of the adventures of the Caribbean Winter 2008 Study Abroad Program in Geology and Field Biology from the University of Delaware College of Marine and Earth Studies to Bonaire.