Tubastraea coccinea: Distribution and substratum preference of an exotic coral in Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

The study of introduced species has gained popularity in recent years. A species introduced to a new area can have negative effects on the native ecosystems, as well as positive interactions with local fauna. The success of an exotic species depends on many factors. Those that are most successful at expanding possess mechanisms of reproduction, settlement, and distribution that aid in competing for space and resources. Tubastraea coccinea, also known as orange cup coral, is native to the Indo-Pacific and was introduced in Bonaire in the 1940s. Little is known about the effects T. coccinea has on the local marine community. It has a very opportunistic nature and has become a dominant scleractinian coral in the subtidal zones occupying shallow, heavy surged waters. T. coccinea is an azooxanthellate coral, which explains its ability to occupy habitats not desirable by other corals requiring sufficient nutrients and sunlight for photosynthesis. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the distribution and abundance of T. coccinea along various sites in Bonaire and observe its habitat preferences. Six sites in Kralendijk, Bonaire were surveyed by snorkelers, who counted various sized colonies and substratum occupancy. T. coccinea was found at all six surveyed sites, being most abundant at sites with very shallow shores and heavy surge. It preferred man-made pilings underneath docks as its habitat. This confirms that T. coccinea is established in Bonaire. By observing the distribution and preferences, the successful nature of T. coccinea throughout the Caribbean can be better understood.

This student research was retrieved from Physis: Journal of Marine Science XIII (Spring 2013)19: 10-16 from CIEE Bonaire.

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