Extreme spatial heterogeneity in carbonate accretion potential on a Caribbean fringing reef linked to local human disturbance gradients
The capacity of coral reefs to maintain their structurally complex frameworks and to retain the potential for vertical accretion is vitally important to the persistence of their ecological functioning and the ecosystem services they sustain. However, datasets to support detailed along-coast assessments of framework production rates and accretion potential do not presently exist. Here we estimate, based on gross bioaccretion and bioerosion measures, the carbonate budgets and resultant maximum accretion potential (RAPmax) of the shallow reef zone of leeward Bonaire – between 5 to 12 m depth – at unique fine spatial resolution along this coast (115 sites). Whilst the fringing reef of Bonaire is often reported to be in a better ecological condition than most sites throughout the wider Caribbean region, our data show that the carbonate budgets of the reefs and derived RAPmax rates varied3 considerably across this ~58 km long fringing reef complex. Some areas, in particular the marine reserves, were indeed still dominated by structurally complex coral communities with high net carbonate production (> 10 kg CaCO3 m-2 year-1 35 ), high live coral cover and complex structural topography. The majority of the studied sites, however, were defined by relatively low budget states (< 2 kg CaCO3 m-2 year-1 36 ) or were in a state of net erosion. These data highlight the marked spatial heterogeneity that can occur in budgets states, and thus in reef accretion potential, even between quite closely spaced areas of individual reef complexes. This heterogeneity is linked strongly to the degree of localized land-based impacts along the coast, and resultant differences in the abundance of reef framework building coral species. The major impact of this variability is that those sections of reef defined by low-accretion potential will have limited capacity to maintain their structural integrity and to keep pace with current projections of climate change induced sea-level rise (SLR), thus posing a threat to reef functioning, biodiversity and trophic cascades. Since many Caribbean reefs are more severely degraded than those found around Bonaire, it is to be expected that the findings presented here are rather the rule than the exception, but the study also highlights the need for similar high spatial resolution (along-coast) assessments of budget states and accretion potential to meaningfully explore increasing coastal risk at the country level. The findings also more generally underline the significance of reducing local anthropogenic disturbance and restoring framework-building coral assemblages. Appropriately focussed local preservation efforts may aid in averting future large-scale submergence of Caribbean coral reefs and will constrain the social and economic implications associated with the loss of reef goods and services.
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