The rapid degradation of coral reefs is one of the most serious biodiversity problems facing our generation. Mesophotic coral reefs (at depths of 30 to 150 meters) have been widely hypothesized to provide refuge from natural and anthropogenic impacts, a promise for the survival of shallow reefs. The potential role of mesophotic reefs as universal refuges is often highlighted in reef conservation research. This hypothesis rests on two assumptions: (i) that there is considerable overlap in species composition and connectivity between shallow and deep populations and (ii) that deep reefs are less susceptible to anthropogenic and natural impacts than their shallower counterparts. Here we present evidence contradicting these assumptions and argue that mesophotic reefs are distinct, impacted, and in as much need of protection as shallow coral reefs.
Abstract During expeditions to Curaçao in August and October of 2013, a large number of fish infected with dermal parasites was observed. Infected individuals pre- sented black spots and white blemishes on their skin and fins that were easily observed by divers, and which have been associated with infections by trematodes, turbel- larians, and protozoans (Cryptocaryon). In order to com- pare rates of infection across localities in the Caribbean, we conducted visual censuses of reef fish communities along 40 m2 belt transects in Belize (n = 35), Curaçao (n = 82), and Mexico (n = 80) over a 4-week period. Three affected individuals were recorded in Belize, 75 in Curaçao, and none in Mexico. Approximately 68 % of the infected individuals in Curaçao were surgeonfishes (Acanthuridae). There was no correlation between inci- dence of infection and species abundance (r2 = 0.03), or with functional traits (diet, mobility, schooling behavior, or position in the water column). The causes of the strik- ingly high incidence of dermal parasites in Curaçao and its consequences remain unknown. However, considering that parasites with complex life cycles have several hosts throughout their lives, and that past disease outbreaks have had severe consequences on communities of the Caribbe- an, we caution that coral reef ecosystems of Curaçao should be closely monitored.