Corals

Status of Western Atlantic coral reefs in the Lesser Antilles

The Lesser Antilles include high volcanic islands with a limited marine shelf, and low coralline islands with a more extensive shelf. Withinthe group, reefs are affected to a greater or lesser degree by widely differing conditions of rainfall and runoff, hurricane damage, recreational use and fishing pressure. While degradation is reported in many areas, there are few long-term studies that quantify trends in reef status. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of management initiatives, and in the number of reef areas under active and effective management. 

Date
1999
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Saba
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten

Corals Chemically Cue Mutualistic Fishes to Remove Competing Seaweeds

Corals in the genus Acropora generate much of the structural complexity upon which coral reefs depend, but they are susceptible to damage from toxic seaweeds. Acropora nasuta minimizes this damage by chemically cuing symbiotic goby fishes (Gobiodon histrio or Paragobiodon echinocephalus) to remove the toxic seaweed Chlorodesmis fastigiata. Within minutes of seaweed contact, or contact from only seaweed chemical extract, the coral releases an odor that recruits gobies to trim the seaweed and dramatically reduce coral damage that would otherwise occur. In turn, chemically defended gobies become more toxic after consumption of this noxious alga. Mutualistic gobies and corals appear to represent a marine parallel to terrestrial ant-plants, in that the host provides shelter and food in return for protection from natural enemies

Date
2012
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal

Rapid Assessment of Stony Coral Richness and Condition on Saba Bank, Netherlands Antilles

Findings:

Combining the findings of this study with that of other studies, the authors conclude that the coral assemblage on the Saba Bank is diverse and healthy; it is representative and typical of those found elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Coral Richness

  • A total of 43 species were documented.
  • There were no significant differences in coral composition amongst bottom types or depth classes.
  • There was a significant difference between sites near and far from the platform edge. The number of coral species observed ranged from 0 and 1 in algal dominated habitats to 23 at a reef habitat on the Bank’s southern edge.
  • Coral species richness was higher on reef dominated areas as opposed to algal dominated ones.

Coral Condition

  • Bleaching was evident at 82% of the sites assessed with 43 colonies bleached.
  • Only three coral colonies were observed to have disease.
  • Five reef sites had stands of Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis), a critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List.
  • No physical damage consistent with anchor usage or sand scour from shipping activity was noted at any of the sites assessed.

Management Recommendations

  1. Immediate action is necessary to protect the diverse coral reef habitats documented.
  2. The five healthy stands of staghorn coral (A. cervicornis) and their surrounding should be given highest priority for full protection in the zoning use plan under development (in consultation with all stakeholders).
  3. More information is needed on the Saba Bank to create a comprehensive zone use plan. For example, more sites need to be studied so as to get a more comprehensive coverage of the bank’s coral composition.
Date
2010
Data type
Scientific article
Journal
Geographic location
Saba bank

Coral growth rates revisited after 31 years: What is causing lower extension rates in Acropora palmata?

Linear extension of branches in the same Acropora palmata (Lamarck, 1816) population in Curaçao was measured, employing exactly the same methods, in 1971–1973 and in 2002–2004, and the resulting coral growth rates are compared. Linear growth shows the same pattern over seasons in both periods with growth being significantly higher in summer than in winter. Growth in the 2002–2004 time interval was significantly slower than in 1971–1973. Mean monthly growth ranged from 0.69 cm (winter) to 0.81 cm (summer) in 1971–1973 and from 0.62 cm (winter) to 0.75 cm (summer) in 2002–2004. This means that linear growth rates in 2002–2004 were 7.2% lower in summer and 10.7% lower in winter compared with 1971–1973. Considering possible causative environmental factors relating to these decreases in growth rate, we cannot preclude the possibility that a change in ocean pH could be responsible for the drop in extension rate.

Date
2009
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring

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. 

Date
2005
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
Bonaire
Curacao

A post-hurricane rapid assessment of reefs in the Windward Netherlands Antilles (stony corals, algae and fishes)

 

Reefs of the windward Netherlands Antilles (Saba, Saba Bank, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten) were assessed at 24 sites in the late 1999. The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGGRA) protocol was used with modifications to detect recent hurricane impacts. Live coral cover averaged 18%. The assemblage of >10 cm stony corals was primarily composed of small-sized colonies (mean diameter = 37 cm) of which the Montastraea annularis complex was the most abundant (30% of colonies). Overall, =1% of the individually surveyed colonies had been physically damaged by Hurricane Lenny but injury levels were higher in Saba (2.6%). Bleaching was noted in 23% of colonies at the time of the assessment with the greatest percentage occurring on St. Maarten (44%) and the lowest on Saba Bank (9%). Total (recent + old) partial mortality of reef-building corals averaged less than 18% although levels were higher (26%) in Colpophyllia natans. Coral recruitment densities were relatively consistent (mean = 5 recruits/m2) across sites. Commercially significant fish species (i.e. serranids, lutjanids, haemulids >5 cm) were present with mean densities of 4.5 individuals/100 m2. High biomass (mean = 5.8 kg/100 m2) of grazing, herbivorous fishes (acanthurids, scarids >5 cm, Microspathodon chrysurus) partially explains the relatively low macroalgal cover (mean = 7%) throughout this area. Saba’s fish community had a greater total biomass than those in the other three geographic areas (mean = 11 kg/100 m2 versus 7 kg/100 m2). While the coral reefs of St. Maarten show signs of disturbance (i.e., increased bleaching and sedimentation), those of Saba, Saba Bank, and southern St. Eustatius have been relatively little disturbed by coastal development and remain potential sources of marine life. Nevertheless, reef development in the windward Netherlands Antilles is limited by frequent hurricanes.

Date
2003
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Saba
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten

Coral Reef Resilience Assessment of the Bonaire National Marine Park, Netherlands Antilles

Abstract:

Although Bonaire’s coral reefs remain among the healthiest and most resilient in the Caribbean, this IUCN report based on the IUCN Resilience Assessment of Coral Reefs highlights some of the threats that exist to Bonaire’s coral reefs, and which could have serious implications for resilience to future climate change and other threats. The report identified recommendations for addressing the current threats, as well as high and low resilience sites.

The threats and recommendations identified include:

Coastal development and artificial beaches.
Recommendation: All coastal construction on Bonaire should be strictly regulated and follow the construction guidelines. The guidelines should become law in order to be enforced appropriately.

Leaching from septic tanks.
Recommendation: It is strongly recommended that Bonaire invest in appropriate sewage treatment facilities to improve water quality and increase the resilience of its valuable coral reefs. It is also recommended that a water quality monitoring program be set up and sustained.

Increasing damselfish populations.
Recommendation: It is recommended that the fishing of predatory fish species on Bonaire’s coral reefs be controlled and managed to a sustainable level to prevent population explosions of prey fish capable of modifying the reef habitat.

Trididemnum and Lobophora.
Recommendation: It is recommended that the populations of Trididemnum and Lobophora are closely monitored and the factors contributing to the unnatural abun- dance of these coral-overgrowing organisms should be studied and then eliminated.

Due to a variety of factors affecting resilience which were assessed using the IUCN methodology, sites were also ranked according to their overall resilience: 

It is noteworthy that sites with lowest resilience ratings (e.g. Chachácha) are those most impacted by coastal development, while sites with highest resilience ratings (e.g. Marine Reserve North, Playa Frans, Karpata, Margate Bay, Vista Blue and South Bay) are those furthest away and least impacted by coastal development. 

Date
2011
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire

Ocean acidification compromises recruitment success of the threatened Caribbean coral Acropora palmata

Ocean acidification (OA) refers to the ongoing decline in oceanic pH resulting from the uptake of atmospheric CO2. Mounting experimental evidence suggests that OA will have negative consequences for a variety of marine organisms. Whereas the effect of OA on the calcification of adult reef corals is increasingly well documented, effects on early life history stages are largely unknown. Coral recruitment, which necessitates successful fertilization, larval settlement, and postsettlement growth and survivorship, is critical to the persistence and resilience of coral reefs. To determine whether OA threatens successful sexual recruitment of reef-building corals, we tested fertilization, settlement, and postsettlement growth of Acropora palmata at pCO2 levels that represent average ambient conditions during coral spawning (∼400 μatm) and the range of pCO2 increases that are expected to occur in this century [∼560 μatm (mid-CO2) and ∼800 μatm (high-CO2)]. Fertilization, settlement, and growth were all negatively impacted by increasing pCO2, and impairment of fertilization was exacerbated at lower sperm concentrations. The cumulative impact of OA on fertilization and settlement success is an estimated 52% and 73% reduction in the number of larval settlers on the reef under pCO2 conditions projected for the middle and the end of this century, respectively. Additional declines of 39% (mid-CO2) and 50% (high-CO2) were observed in postsettlement linear extension rates relative to controls. These results suggest that OA has the potential to impact multiple, sequential early life history stages, thereby severely compromising sexual recruitment and the ability of coral reefs to recover from disturbance

Date
2010
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring

Synthesis of coral reef health indicators for the Western Atlantic: Results of the AGRRA program (1997-2000)

Abstract:

The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) sampling strategy is designed to collect both descriptive and quantitative information for a large number of reef vitality indicators over large spatial scales. AGRRA assessments conducted between 1998 and 2000 across a spectrum of western Atlantic reefs with different histories of disturbance, environmental conditions, and fishing pressure were examined to reveal means and variances for 15 indicators. Twenty surveys were compiled into a database containing a total of 302 benthic sites (249 deep, 53 shallow), 2,337 benthic transects, 14,000 quadrats, 22,553 stony corals. Seventeen surveys contained comparable fish data for a total of 247 fish sites (206 deep, 41 shallow), 2,488 fish transects, and 71,102 fishes. Shallow (≤ 5 m) reefs were dominated by A. palmata, a good proportion of which was standing dead, while deep (>5m) reefs were nearly always dominated by the Montastraea annularis species complex. Fish communities were dominated by acanthurids and scarids with seranids making up less than 1% of the fish seen on shallow reefs and 4% on deep reefs.

AGRRA benthic and fish indicators on deep reefs showed the highest variation at the smallest spatial scale (~<0.1 km), with recent mortality and macroalgal canopy height displaying the largest area and subregional scale (~1-100 km) variation. A mean live coral cover of 26% for the 20 survey areas was determined for the deep sites. Significant bleaching and disease-induced mortality of stony corals associated with the 1998 (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) ENSO event were most apparent in the western Caribbean and Bahamas subregions and the Montastraea annularis complex was the most heavily impacted.

The overall low number of sightings for larger-bodied groupers and snappers (~< 1/100 m2) as a whole suggest that the entire region is overfished for many of these more heavily targeted species. More remote reefs showed as much evidence of reef degradation as reefs more proximal to human coastal development. Characterizing present-day reef condition across the region is a complex problem since there are likely multiple sources of stress operating over several spatial and temporal scales. Not withstanding the many limitations of this analysis, the value of making multiple observations across multiple spatial scales that can approximate the “normal” state for the region today is still very high. 

Date
2003
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Author