Coral reef crisis in deep and shallow reefs: 30 years of constancy and change in reefs of Curacao and Bonaire
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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 zooxanthellate 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 environment with extremely low temperatures possibly related to deep-reef bleaching.
KeywordsDeep coral reef Global change Bleaching Coral reef temperature Coral mortality Long-term monitoring
We thank Dr Mark J.A. Vermeij, RSMAS/NOAA for use of temperature data and for comments on the Manuscript. He and Dr Maggy M. Nugues assisted in recent photo surveys. Dr Judy Lang supplied information on cold water bleaching. We are grateful to the staff of the CARMABI foundation: Dr Walter Bakhuis, Dr Adolphe Debrot, Dr Bryan Leysner, Aubrey Tiel, Oscar Frans, Frank Isabella, Carlos Winterdaal and numerous students for continuous support working on Curaçao. We thank the staff and rangers of the Bonaire Underwater Park for their long-term support in diving in Bonaire.
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