Located below the hurricane belt in the Netherlands Antilles, the island of Bonaire is rarely affected by major storms and high-wave action. In a rare storm event in November 1999, waves generated by hurricane Lenny hit the leeward side of Bonaire causing significant damage to many of the shallow reefs. Shallow reef sites (5-10m) were significantly more damaged than sites at deeper depths (20m) and there was evidence of toppling, sedimentation, and smothering. Little is known about the patterns of successional recovery of corals following hurricane damage in the Caribbean. This study investigated reef rugosity and coral species composition at sites that were damaged by hurricane Lenny versus those that were undisturbed. More than 8 years after hurricane Lenny there was a significant difference in species composition at disturbed and undisturbed sites and a significantly higher rugosity index at undisturbed sites. The recovery success of coral reefs is affected not only by past disturbances, but also by present and future disturbances, both chronic and acute. Storm damage caused by hurricane Lenny may have affected the overall resilience of the reef to anthropological disturbances such as increased eutrophication and sedimentation as well as natural disturbances including global climate change.
This student research was retrieved from Physis: Journal of Marine Science III (Spring 2008)19: 43-47 from CIEE Bonaire.