Coral Reefs

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 663–675 | Cite as

Are artificial reefs surrogates of natural habitats for corals and fish in Dubai, United Arab Emirates?

  • J. Burt
  • A. Bartholomew
  • P. Usseglio
  • A. Bauman
  • P. F. Sale


Artificial reefs are often promoted as mitigating human impacts in coastal ecosystems and enhancing fisheries; however, evidence supporting their benefits is equivocal. Such structures must be compared with natural reefs in order to assess their performance, but past comparisons typically examined artificial structures that were too small, or were immature, relative to the natural reefs. We compared coral and fish communities on two large (>400,000 m3) and mature (>25 year) artificial reefs with six natural coral patches. Coral cover was higher on artificial reefs (50%) than in natural habitats (31%), but natural coral patches contained higher species richness (29 vs. 20) and coral diversity (H′ = 2.3 vs. 1.8). Multivariate analyses indicated strong differences between coral communities in natural and artificial habitats. Fish communities were sampled seasonally for 1 year. Multivariate fish communities differed significantly among habitat types in the summer and fall, but converged in the winter and spring. Univariate analysis indicated that species richness and abundance were stable throughout the year on natural coral patches but increased significantly in the summer on artificial reefs compared with the winter and spring, explaining the multivariate changes in community structure. The increased summer abundance on artificial reefs was mainly due to adult immigration. Piscivores were much more abundant in the fall than in the winter or spring on artificial reefs, but had low and stable abundance throughout the year in natural habitats. It is likely that the decreased winter and spring abundance of fish on the artificial reefs resulted from both predation and emigration. These results indicate that large artificial reefs can support diverse and abundant coral and fish communities. However, these communities differ structurally and functionally from those in natural habitats, and they should not be considered as replacements for natural coral and fish communities.


Coral Breakwater Artificial reef Fish Persian Gulf Arabian Gulf 



The authors would like to thank Dubai Municipality for sampling permits, Zayed University for provision of facilities, K. Jenahi for technical assistance, and Nakheel PJSC for logistic and financial support. Major A. Al-Suwaidi of Emirates Marine Environment Group also provided logistic support in the Jebel Ali Marine Sanctuary, and Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) provided financial support to JB through grant # 154284 to PFS. Their support is also appreciated.


  1. Abelson A, Shlesinger Y (2002) Comparison of the development of coral and fish communities on rock-aggregated artificial reefs in Eilat, Red Sea. ICES J Mar Sci 59:122–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Airoldi L, Abbiati M, Beck MW, Hawkins SJ, Jonsson PR, Martin D, Moschella PS, Sundelof A, Thompson RC, Aberg P (2005) An ecological perspective on the deployment and design of low-crested and other hard coastal defence structures. Coast Eng 52:1073–1087CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aseltine-Neilson D, Bernstein B, Palmer-Zwahlen M, Riege L, Smith R (1999) Comparisons of turf communities from Pendleton Artificial Reef, Torrey Pines Artificial Reef, and a natural reef using multivariate techniques. Bull Mar Sci 65:37–57Google Scholar
  4. Babcock R, Mundy C (1996) Coral recruitment: consequences of settlement choice for early growth and survivorship in two scleractinians. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 206:179–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bacchiocchi F, Airoldi L (2003) Distribution and dynamics of epibiota on hard structures for coastal protection. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 56:1157–1166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Badalamenti F, Chemello R, D’Anna G, Heriquez Ramos P, Riggio S (2002) Are artificial reefs comparable to neighbouring natural rocky area? A mollusc case study in the Gulf of Castellammare. ICES J Mar Sci 59:127–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bohnsack J (1989) Are high densities of fishes at artificial reefs the result of habitat limitation of behavioral preference? Bull Mar Sci 44:631–645Google Scholar
  8. Bohnsack J, Harper D, McClellan D, Hulsbeck M (1994) Effects of reef size on colonization and assemblage structure of fishes at artificial reefs off southeastern Florida, USA. Bull Mar Sci 55:796–823Google Scholar
  9. Bohnsack JA, Ecklund AM, Szmant AM (1997) Artificial reef research: is there more than the attraction-production issue? Fisheries 22:14–16Google Scholar
  10. Bulleri F (2005) Role of recruitment in causing differences between intertidal assemblages on seawalls and rocky shores. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 287:53–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burt J, Bartholomew A, Usseglio P (2008) Recovery of corals a decade after bleaching in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Mar Biol 154:27–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carr M, Hixon M (1997) Artificial reefs: the importance of comparisons with natural reefs. Fisheries 22:28–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chapman MG, Clynick BG (2006) Experiments testing the use of waste material in estuaries as habitat for subtidal organisms. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 338:164–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clark S, Edwards AJ (1999) An evaluation of artificial reef structures as tools for marine habitat rehabilitation in the Maldives. Aquat Conserv 9:5–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clynick BG, Chapman MG, Underwood AJ (2008) Fish assemblages associated with urban structures and natural reefs in Sydney, Australia. Austral Ecol 33:140–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coles S, Tarr A (1990) Reef fish assemblages in the western Arabian Gulf: a geographically isolated population in an extreme environment. Bull Mar Sci 47:696–720Google Scholar
  17. Connell SD (1997) The relationship between large predatory fish and recruitment and mortality of juvenile coral reef-fish on artificial reefs. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 209:261–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Creed J, DePaula A (2007) Substratum preference during recruitment of two invasive alien corals onto shallow-subtidal tropical rocky shores. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 330:101–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dikou A, van Woesik R (2006) Survival under chronic stress from sediment load: spatial patterns of hard coral communities in the southern islands of Singapore. Mar Pollut Bull 52:1340–1354PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dufrene M, Legendre P (1997) Species assemblages and indicator species: the need for a flexible asymmetrical approach. Ecol Monogr 67:345–366Google Scholar
  21. Edwards RA, Smith SDA (2005) Subtidal assemblages associated with a geotextile reef in south-east Queensland, Australia. Mar Freshw Res 56:133–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. EWS-WWF (2008) Coral reef investigations in Abu Dhabi and eastern Qatar: final report. Emirates Wildlife Society—World Wide Fund for Nature, Abu Dhabi, UAEGoogle Scholar
  23. Field S, Glassom D, Bythell J (2007) Effects of artificial settlement plate materials and methods of deployment on the sessile epibenthic community development in a tropical environment. Coral Reefs 26:279–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fujita T, Kitagawa D, Okuyama Y, Jin Y, Ishito Y, Inada T (1996) Comparison of fish assemblages among an artificial reef, a natural reef and a sandy-mud bottom site on the shelf off Iwate, northern Japan. Environ Biol Fish 46:351–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Grossman GD, Jones GP, Seaman WJ (1997) Do artificial reefs increase regional fish production? A review of existing data. Fisheries 22:17–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hansen B (2005) Artificial islands reshape Dubai coast. Civil Eng 75:12–13Google Scholar
  27. Kohler K, Gill S (2006) Coral Point Count with Excel extensions (CPCe): a Visual Basic program for the determination of coral and substrate coverage using random point count methodology. Comput Geosci 32:1259–1269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lincoln-Smith M, Hair C, Bell J (1994) Man-made rock breakwaters as fish habitats: comparisons between breakwaters and natural reefs within an embayment in southeastern Australia. Bull Mar Sci 55:1344Google Scholar
  29. McCune B, Grace J (2002) Analysis of ecological communities. MjM Software Design, Gleneden Beach, ORGoogle Scholar
  30. McCune B, Mefford M (1999) PC-ORD: multivariate analysis of ecological data. MjM, Software Design, Gleneden Beach, ORGoogle Scholar
  31. Moschella PS, Abbiati M, Aberg P, Airoldi L, Anderson JM, Bacchiocchi F, Bulleri F, Dinesen GE, Frost M, Gacia E, Granhag L, Jonsson PR, Satta MP, Sundelof A, Thompson RC, Hawkins SJ (2005) Low-crested coastal defence structures as artificial habitats for marine life: using ecological criteria in design. Coast Eng 52:1053–1071CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Perez-Ruzafa A, Garcia-Charton JA, Barcala E, Marcos C (2006) Changes in benthic fish assemblages as a consequence of coastal works in a coastal lagoon: the Mar Menor (Spain, Western Mediterranean): recent developments in estuarine ecology and management. Mar Pollut Bull 53:107–120PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Perkol-Finkel S, Benayahu Y (2004) Community structure of stony and soft corals on vertical unplanned artificial reefs in Eilat (Red Sea): comparison to natural reefs. Coral Reefs 23:195–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Perkol-Finkel S, Benayahu Y (2005) Recruitment of benthic organisms onto a planned artificial reef: shifts in community structure one decade post-deployment. Mar Environ Res 59:79–99PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Perkol-Finkel S, Shashar N, Barneah O, Ben-David-Zaslow R, Oren U, Reichart T, Yacobovich T, Yahel G, Yahel R, Benayahu Y (2005) Fouling reefal communities on artificial reefs: does age matter? Biofouling 21:127–140PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Perkol-Finkel S, Shashar N, Benayahu Y (2006) Can artificial reefs mimic natural reef communities? The roles of structural features and age. Mar Environ Res 61:121–135PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Petersen D, Laterveer M, Schuhmacher H (2005) Innovative substrate tiles to spatially control larval settlement in coral culture. Mar Biol 146:937–942CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pickering H, Whitmarsh D (1997) Artificial reefs and fisheries exploitation: a review of the ‘attraction versus production’ debate, the influence of design and its significance for policy. Fish Res 31:39–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pondella D, Stephens J, Craig M (2002) Fish production of a temperate artificial reef based on the density of embiotocids. ICES J Mar Sci 59:S88–S93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Randall J (1995) Coastal fishes of Oman. University of Hawaii Press, HonoluluGoogle Scholar
  41. Riegl B (1999) Corals in a non-reef setting in the southern Arabian Gulf (Dubai, UAE): fauna and community structure in response to recurring mass mortality. Coral Reefs 18:63–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Riegl B (2002) Effects of the 1996 and 1998 positive sea-surface temperature anomalies on corals, coral diseases and fish in the Arabian Gulf (Dubai, UAE). Mar Biol 140:29–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Riegl B (2003) Climate change and coral reefs: different effects in two high-latitude areas (Arabian Gulf, South Africa). Coral Reefs 22:433–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Riegl B, Branch G (1995) Effects of sediment on the energy budgets of four scleractinian (Bourne 1900) and five alcyonacean (Lamouroux 1816) corals. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 186:259–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rilov G, Benayahu Y (2000) Fish assemblage on natural versus vertical artificial reefs: the rehabilitation perspective. Mar Biol 136:931–942CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stephens J, Morris P, Zerba K, Love M (1984) Factors affecting fish diversity on a temperate reef: the fish assemblage of Palos Verdes Point, 1974–1981. Environ Biol Fishes 11:259–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stephens J, Morris P, Pondella D, Koonce T, Jordan G (1994) Overview of the dynamics of an urban artificial reef fish assemblage at King Harbor, California, USA, 1974–1991: a recruitment driven system. Bull Mar Sci 55:1224–1239Google Scholar
  48. Svane I, Peterson J (2001) On the problems of epibioses, fouling and artificial reefs, a review. Mar Ecol 22:169–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tupper M, Hunte W (1998) Predictability of fish assemblages on artificial and natural reefs in Barbados. Bull Mar Sci 62:919–935Google Scholar
  50. Wen K, Hsu C, Chen K, Liao M, Chen C, Chen C (2007) Unexpected coral diversity on the breakwaters: potential refuges for depleting coral reefs. Coral Reefs 26:127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wilkinson C (2004) Status of coral reefs of the world: 2004. Australian Institute of Marine Science, TownsvilleGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Burt
    • 1
    • 2
  • A. Bartholomew
    • 3
  • P. Usseglio
    • 4
  • A. Bauman
    • 4
  • P. F. Sale
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Natural Science & Public HealthZayed UniversityDubaiUnited Arab Emirates
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada
  3. 3.Department of Biology and ChemistryAmerican University of SharjahSharjahUnited Arab Emirates
  4. 4.United Nations University, International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH)HamiltonCanada

Personalised recommendations