Luxuriant fringing reefs along the southwestern shores of the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Bonaire (12°N), located outside the most frequent hurricane tracks, are rarely affected by major storms. Consequently, reef growth and long‐term preservation are potentially optimal and distinct from reefs experiencing greater hurricane frequency. Hurricane Lenny (November 1999) took an unusual west‐to‐east track, bisecting the Caribbean Basin north of these islands, but generated heavy waves (3‐6 m) that severely damaged reefs along the normally leeward shores. Massive coral colonies >100 years old were toppled, but even at the most severely damaged sites, 82–85% of colonies remained in growth position. Late Pleistocene (125 ka) elevated reefs in the Lower Terrace of Curaçao record even higher proportions of corals in growth position (93%), possibly reflecting a low hurricane frequency during the Pleistocene highstand. In comparison, coeval Pleistocene reefs in regions that today experience a high hurricane frequency (Great Inagua Island and San Salvador, Bahamas) have lower proportions of corals preserved in growth position (79% and 38%, respectively). These results are consistent with the hypothesis that reefs in regions experiencing very low hurricane frequency, like the southern Caribbean, are more likely to be preserved with corals in primary growth position in comparison to regions with higher hurricane frequency.
Fringing reefs along the southwestern shores of the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Bonaire (12°N), located outside the most frequent hurricane tracks, are rarely affected by heavy wave-action and major storms, yet have experienced disturbances such as coral bleaching, coral diseases, and mass mortalities. The last major hurricane to hit these islands occurred over 100 yr ago. In November 1999, Hurricane Lenny took an unusual west-to-east track, bisecting the Caribbean Basin and passing approximately 200 miles north of Curaçao and Bonaire. The leeward shores of both islands were pounded for 24 h by heavy waves (~3–6 m) generated while the storm was centered far to the west. Reef damage surveys at 33 sites conducted between November 1999 to April 2000, following the storm, documented occurrences of toppling, fragmentation, tissue damage, bleaching, and smothering due to the storm. Reefs were severely damaged along westward-facing shores but less impacted where the reef front was tangential to the wave direction or was protected by offshore islands. At the most severely damaged sites, massive coral colonies 2–3-m high (older than 100 yr) were toppled or overturned, smaller corals were broken loose and tumbled across the shallow reef platform and either deposited on the shore or dropped onto the deeper forereef slope. Branching and plating growth forms suffered more damage than massive species and large colonies experienced greater damage than small colonies. Toppled massive corals have a high potential of preserving the event signature even if they survive and continue to grow. Reorientation of large, long-lived coralla may provide a unique indicator of disturbance in a reef system rarely affected by hurricanes. At some locations, wave scouring removed loose sediment to reveal a cemented framework of Acropora cervicornis rubble on the shallow platform above 10-m depth. This rubble was generated in situ, not by storm processes, but rather by an earlier mass mortality of thickets of staghorn coral that covered extensive areas of the shallow platform prior to the incidence of white band disease in the early 1980s.
Since 1996 at the latest, comatulid crinoids on the leeward reefs of Curaçao and Bonaire have declined drastically in population size and diversity. Prior to this decline, five species inhabited the forereef slope from depths of 6 to >30 m. Davidaster rubiginosa and an undescribed species of Davidaster were common from about 6 to 15 m depth, and D. discoidea was common below about 15 m. Nemaster grandis and Ctenantedon kinziei were found in lower abundance at about 30 m depth. Transect data from Bonaire showed that a drastic decline in numbers of the Davidaster taxa occurred between 1989 and 1996. Transects in Curaçao in the late 1990s through 2001 documented a similar decline. In 2007, sites in Curaçao where species of Davidaster were formerly common were practically devoid of crinoids. In particular, D. discoidea, once the most numerous crinoid in these islands, has all but disappeared. The cause of this decline on both islands is unknown. It is possible that heating associated with the severe coral bleaching event of 1995 also affected the crinoids. As far as we are aware, reef crinoid populations across the broader western Atlantic region have not shown a similar decline.