The CARICOMP monitoring network gathered standardized data from 52 seagrass sampling stations at 22 sites (mostly Thalassia testudinum-dominated beds in reef systems) across the Wider Caribbean twice a year over the period 1993 to 2007 (and in some cases up to 2012). Wide variations in community total biomass (285 to .2000 g dry m22) and annual foliar productivity of the dominant seagrass T. testudinum (,200 and .2000 g dry m22) were found among sites. Solar-cycle related intra-annual variations in T. testudinum leaf productivity were detected at latitudes . 16uN. Hurricanes had little to no long-term effects on these well-developed seagrass communities, except for 1 station, where the vegetation was lost by burial below ,1 m sand. At two sites (5 stations), the seagrass beds collapsed due to excessive grazing by turtles or sea- urchins (the latter in combination with human impact and storms). The low-cost methods of this regional-scale monitoring program were sufficient to detect long-term shifts in the communities, and fifteen (43%) out of 35 long-term monitoring stations (at 17 sites) showed trends in seagrass communities consistent with expected changes under environmental deterioration.
The conservation status of 845 zooxanthellate reef-building coral species was assessed by using International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List Criteria. Of the 704 species that could be assigned conservation status, 32.8% are in categories with elevated risk of extinction. Declines in abundance are associated with bleaching and diseases driven by elevated sea surface temperatures, with extinction risk further exacerbated by local-scale anthropogenic disturbances. The proportion of corals threatened with extinction has increased dramatically in recent decades and exceeds that of most terrestrial groups. The Caribbean has the largest proportion of corals in high extinction risk categories, whereas the Coral Triangle (western Pacific) has the highest proportion of species in all categories of elevated extinction risk. Our results emphasize the widespread plight of coral reefs and the urgent need to enact conservation measures.
In 2004, as part of a GEF funded project entitled “Coral Reef Targeted Research and Capacity Building” (CRTR), to assess the current status and future of these important communities, six groups of researchers looked at different aspects of the dynamics and degradation of coral reefs worldwide (i.e. Coral diseases, bleaching, connectivity, remote sensing. One of these groups, the Coral Disease Working Group (CDWG), assessed the number, prevalence, distribution, impacts and host range of coral diseases and their spatial and temporal variability in the wider Caribbean.
Curacao was selected as one of six localities spread over the Caribbean, and one of two southern localities. Results presented here represent our preliminary approach and surveys in Curacao. Surveys were done in permanently marked transects using the CARICOMP sampling protocol. Overall, coral diseases in these sites had, on average, a relatively low prevalence (5.74 ± 3.7%) at the community level (all colonies from all species included). Curacao was the second country with higher disease prevalence of the 6 countries visited across the Caribbean during the Summer-Fall of 2005, the weight of this prevalence coming from one of the two sites surveyed on the island. The most common diseases observed were dark spots syndrome (DSS), white plague type II (WP-II) and secondary infections by ciliates. Noteworthy was the lack of bleaching in these two reef localities and in general, in the Netherland Antilles when most of the eastern, northern and western were suffering the worst bleaching event on record for the Caribbean. Bleached colonies were only mild paling patterns and the overall prevalence was below 1.0 %. Octocoral diseases were almost two times more prevalent (9.6 ± 16.9%) than coral diseases in Curacao.
This paper provides an analysis of the distribution patterns of marine biodiversity and summarizes the major activities of the Census of Marine Life program in the Caribbean region. The coastal Caribbean region is a large marine ecosystem (LME) characterized by coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses, but including other environments, such as sandy beaches and rocky shores. These tropical ecosystems incorporate a high diversity of associated flora and fauna, and the nations that border the Caribbean collectively encompass a major global marine biodiversity hot spot. We analyze the state of knowledge of marine biodiversity based on the geographic distribution of georeferenced species records and regional taxonomic lists. A total of 12,046 marine species are reported in this paper for the Caribbean region. These include representatives from 31 animal phyla, two plant phyla, one group of Chromista, and three groups of Protoctista. Sampling effort has been greatest in shallow, nearshore waters, where there is relatively good coverage of species records; offshore and deep environments have been less studied. Additionally, we found that the currently accepted classification of marine ecoregions of the Caribbean did not apply for the benthic distributions of five relatively well known taxonomic groups. Coastal species richness tends to concentrate along the Antillean arc (Cuba to the southernmost Antilles) and the northern coast of South America (Venezuela – Colombia), while no pattern can be observed in the deep sea with the available data. Several factors make it impossible to determine the extent to which these distribution patterns accurately reflect the true situation for marine biodiversity in general:
- highly localized concentrations of collecting effort and a lack of collecting in many areas and ecosystems,
- high variability among collecting methods,
- limited taxonomic expertise for many groups, and
- differing levels of activity in the study of different taxa.