, Volume 166, Issue 3, pp 269-276

Changes in Kenyan coral reef community structure and function due to exploitation

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Abstract

A comparison of Kenyan reefs of different historical and observed levels of fishing exploitation showed that more exploited reef lagoons had greater sea urchin densities and sizes, fewer and smaller fish and less coral cover. In the most exploited lagoon the biomass of the burrowing sea urchin Echinometra mathaei increased five fold during the previous 15 years. An ecological study of the three most common omnivorous sea urchin species inhabiting hard substrate within these reef lagoons (E. mathaei, Diadema savignyi and D. setosum) suggests that they are ecologically separated by predation and avoid predators and competitors by occupying different size burrows or crevices within the lagoon. Predator removal through fishing activities may result in ecological release of the sea urchins and result in competitive exclusion of weaker competitors. The most exploited reef had a nearly monospecific barren of E. mathaei living outside burrows suggesting that E. mathaei may be the top competitor. Its ecological release appears to lead to a decrease in live coral cover, increased substrate bioerosion and eventually a loss of topographic complexity, species diversity, fish biomass and utilizable fisheries productivity. Data from the outer reef edge were more difficult to interpret but may indicate similar patterns. Within this area, physical stresses such as waves and currents may be a greater controlling force in regulating fishing activities and coral reef community structure.