Southern Caribbean azooxanthellate coral communities off Colombia

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Abstract

As a result of the explorations carried out by the Colombian Marine and Coastal Research Institute (INVEMAR) between 1998–2002 along the Colombian Caribbean continental shelf and upper slope, the occurrence of azooxanthellate coral banks was suspected at three sites (from the northern to southern Colombian Caribbean coast): off La Guajira Peninsula, at a water depth of 70 m; off Santa Marta, at 200 m, and nearby the San Bernardo Archipelago, at 150 m). Each site exhibited particular bottom features (relief and substrate), suggestive of reef structures. The analysis of the fauna collected by bottom trawling at these sites showed that many of the fishes, mollusks, echinoderms, crustaceans, antipatharians, soft corals and bryozoans collected are characteristic dwellers of hard substrates or reef bottoms. At the first site (Guajira) the hard coral Cladocora debilis, was the most abundant; a total of 156 species of invertebrates and fishes were identified among the material collected at this site. At the second site (Santa Marta), 13 scleractinian species were collected, but Madracis myriaster, was the dominant species; another 102 species of invertebrates and fishes were also found. At the third site (San Bernardo) 19 scleractinian species were found, M. myriaster being the dominant. A total of 135 species of invertebrates and fishes were collected at this site. It is presumed that deep-sea coral banks have developed in these three settings, since many of the collected species are known to be hard or reef bottom dwellers.