Coral reef crisis in deep and shallow reefs: 30 years of constancy and change in reefs of Curacao and Bonaire
Coral reefs are thought to be in worldwide decline but available data are practically limited to reefs shallower than 25 m. Zooxanthellate coral communities in deep reefs (30–40 m) are relatively unstudied. Our question is: what is happening in deep reefs in terms of coral cover and coral mortality? We compare changes in species composition, coral mortality, and coral cover at Caribbean (Curacao and Bonaire) deep (30–40 m) and shallow reefs (10–20 m) using long-term (1973–2002) data from permanent photo quadrats. About 20 zoo- xanthellate coral species are common in the deep-reef communities, dominated by Agaricia sp., with coral cover up to 60%. In contrast with shallow reefs, there is no decrease in coral cover or number of coral colonies in deep reefs over the last 30 years. In deep reefs, non- agaricid species are decreasing but agaricid domination will be interrupted by natural catastrophic mortality such as deep coral bleaching and storms. Temperature is a vastly fluctuating variable in the deep-reef environ- ment with extremely low temperatures possibly related to deep-reef bleaching.