Coral Reefs

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 475–479 | Cite as

Coral reef crisis in deep and shallow reefs: 30 years of constancy and change in reefs of Curacao and Bonaire

  • Rolf P. M. BakEmail author
  • Gerard Nieuwland
  • Erik H. Meesters


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.


Deep 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.


  1. Bak RPM (1976) The growth of coral colonies and the importance of crustose coralline algae and burrowing sponges in relation with carbonate accumulation. Neth J Sea Res 10:285–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bak RPM (1977) Coral reefs and their zonation in the Netherlands Antilles. Stud Geol 4:3–16Google Scholar
  3. Bak RPM, Elgershuizen JHBW (1976) Patterns of oil-sediment rejection in corals. Mar Biol 37:105–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bak RPM, Luckhurst BE (1980) Constancy and change in coral reef habitats along depth gradients at Curaçao. Oecologia 47:145–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bellwood DR, Hughes TP, Folke CM, Nystrom M (2004) Confronting the coral reef crisis. Nature 429:827–833CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown B (1996) Coral bleaching: causes and consequences. In: Proceedings of the 8th International Coral Reef Symposium, vol 1. Panama, pp 65–74Google Scholar
  7. Brown BE, Dunne RP, Ambarsari I, Le Tissier MDA, Satapoomin U (1999) Seasonal fluctuations in environmental factors and variations in symbiotic algae and chlorophyll pigments in four Indo-Pacific coral species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 191:53–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cairns SD (1982) Stony corals (Cnidaria: Hydrozoa, Scleractinia) of Carrie Bow Cay, Belize. In: Rützler K, Macintyre IG (eds) The Atlantic Barrier Reef ecosystem at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize, I, Structure and communities. Smithsonian Institution Press, City of Washington, pp 271–302Google Scholar
  9. Coles SL, Fadlallah YH (1991) Reef coral survival and mortality at low temperatures in the Arabian Gulf: new species-specific lower temperature limits. Coral Reefs 9:231–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dunne RP, Brown BE (1996) Penetration of solar UVB radiation in shallow tropical waters and its potential biological effects on coral reefs: results from the central Indian Ocean and Andaman sea. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 144:109–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. van Duyl FC (1985) Atlas of the living reefs of Curaçao and Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles). Natuurwetensch Studiekr Suriname Ned Ant, Utrecht, vol 117, p 37Google Scholar
  12. Feely RA, Sabine CL, Lee K, Berelson W, Kleypas J, Fabry VJ, Millero FJ (2004) Impact of anthropogenic CO2 on the CaCO3 system in the oceans. Science 305:362–366CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Gardner TA, Cote IM, Gill JA, Gant A, Watkinson AR (2003) Long-term region-wide declines in Caribbean corals. Science 301:958–960CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Goreau TF, Goreau NI (1973) The ecology of Jamaican coral reefs. II Geomorphology, zonation and sedimentary phases. Bull Mar Sci 23:399–464Google Scholar
  15. Grigg RW, Birkeland C (1997) Status of coral reefs in the Pacific. University of Hawaii Sea Grant Program, Hawaii, p 143Google Scholar
  16. Hoegh-Guldberg O (1999) Climate change, coral bleaching and the future of the world’s coral reefs. Mar Freshw Res 50:839–866CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. van den Hoek C, Breeman AM, Bak RPM, van Buurt G (1978) The distribution of algae, corals and gorgonians in relation to depth, light attenuation, water movement and grazing pressure in the fringing coral reef of Curaçao, Neth. Antilles. Aquat Bot 5:1–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hughes TP, Jackson JBC (1985) Population dynamics and life histories of foliaceous corals. Ecol Monogr 55:141–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kobluk DR, Lysenko MA (1994) “Ring” bleaching in southern Caribbean Agaricia agaricites during a rapid water cooling. Bull Mar Sci 54:142–150Google Scholar
  20. Leichter JJ, Wing SR, Miller SL, Denny MW (1996) Pulsed delivery of subthermocline water to Conch reef (Florida Keys) by internal bores. Limnol Oceanogr 41:1490–1501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Macintyre IG, Rützler K, Norris JN, Smith KP, Cairns SD, Bucher KE, Steneck RS (1991) An early Holocene reef on the western Atlantic: submersible investigations off the west coast of Barbados, W.I. Coral Reefs 10:167–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Quinn GP, Keough MJ (2002) Experimental design and data analysis for biologists. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 537Google Scholar
  23. Roberts HH, Rouse JR, Walker ND, Hudson JH (1982) Cold-water stress in Florida Bay and Northern Bahamas: a product of winter cold-air outbreaks. J Sed Petrol 52:145–155Google Scholar
  24. Rogers CS, Beets J (2001) Degradation of marine ecosystems and decline of fishery resources in marine protected areas in the US Virgin Islands. Environ Conserv 28:312–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Vermeij MJA, Bak RPM (2002) How are coral populations structured by light? Marine light regimes and the distribution of Madracis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 233:105–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Vermeij MJA, Bak RPM (2004) Species-specific population structure of closely related coral morphospecies along a depth gradient (5–60 m) over a Caribbean reef slope. Bull Mar Sci 73:725–744Google Scholar
  27. Walker ND, Roberts HH, Rouse LD, Huh OK (1982) Thermal history of reef-associated environments during a record cold-air outbreak. Coral reefs 1:83–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wells JW (1973) New and old scleractinian corals from Jamaica. Bull Mar Sci 23:16–58Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rolf P. M. Bak
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gerard Nieuwland
    • 1
  • Erik H. Meesters
    • 2
  1. 1.Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)TexelThe Netherlands
  2. 2.AlterraTexelThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations