Coral diversity matches marine park zonation but not economic value of coral reef sites at St. Eustatius, eastern Caribbean

Stony corals play a key role in the marine biodiversity of many tropical coastal areas as suppliers of substrate, food and shelter for other reef organisms. Therefore, it is remarkable that coral diversity usually does not play a role in the planning of protected areas in coral reef areas. In the present study we examine how stony coral diversity patterns relate to marine park zonation and the economic value of reefs around St. Eustatius, a small island in the eastern Caribbean, with fisheries and tourism as important sources of income. The marine park contains two no-take reserves. A biodiversity survey was performed at 39 sites, 24 inside the reserves and 15 outside; 22 had a maximum depth >18 m and 17 were shallower. Data on economic value per site were obtained from the literature. Corals were photographed for the verification of identifications made in the field. Coral species richness (n = 49) was highest in the no-take reserves and species composition was mainly affected by maximum depth. No distinct relation is observed between coral diversity and fishery value or total economic value. Based on the outcome of this study we suggest that in future designs of marine park zonation in reef areas, coral diversity should be taken into consideration. This is best served by including reef areas with a continuous depth gradient from shallow flats to deep slopes.



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