Coral reefs and their zonation in the Netherlands Antilles

Although coral reefs are well developed in the Leeward islands of the Netherlands Antilles, they are poorly developed in the Windward group. Coral communities are common in the Dutch Windward islands, but no structural reefs have been observed. Flat, sandy bottoms there seem to prevent reef development, as is also the case on large parts of the southwest coast of Aruba.

The zonation of corals on the reefs, with respect to depth, distance from shore, and conformation to the bottom, resembles that of other Caribbean reefs. Density of living-coral cover ranges in the several zones from nearly zero to almost 100%. Below 20 to 25 m on the forereef slope the corals are areally less abundant than crustose coralline algae. Generic diversity of hermatypic corals is comparable in the Leeward and Windward groups of the Dutch islands, with 24 and 23 genera present, respectively. These numbers are comparable to those of other highly diverse reefs in the Caribbean. The number of species in the Windward group, however, is relatively low. The differences in abundance of coral genera (and species) throughout the Caribbean needs more thorough investigation.

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