Monitoring of coral reef communities from natural reserves in Puerto Rico
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Monitoring of coral reef communities from natural reserves in Puerto Rico

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  • Alternative Title:
    Final report
  • Description:
    "A total of 21 coral reef stations were surveyed in the 2016 coral reef monitoring event. Baseline characterizations (17 reef stations) were produced for reef systems in Mayaguez Bay (Manchas Exteriores 20, 10, Rodriguez 5), Cabo Rojo (Guanajibo 20, El Negro10, 5), Guayanilla Bay (Maria Langa 20, 10, 5), Salinas (Cayo Coral 10, Cayo Ratones 5), Fajardo (Palominos 20, Palominitos 10, Cayo Diablo 5) and Isla de Culebra (Dakiti 20, Carlos Rosario 10, Luis Pena 5). Monitoring surveys were performed on the reefs stations of Isla de Vieques (El Seco30, Canjilones 20, Esperanza 10) and Vega Baja (Cibuco Reef 5). The Manchas Exteriores/Rodriguez Reef systems in Mayaguez and El Negro/Guanajibo in Cabo Rojo represent coastal coral reefs of the west coast with relatively high live coral cover (20 -- 36 %) with strong dominance of Orbicella annularis and more than 10 coral species intercepted in the five permanent replicate transect set within the 5 -- 20 m stratified depth format. Fringing reef systems at the outer sections of Guayama/Salinas (Cayo Caribe 10, Cayo Ratones 5) and Guayanilla Bays (Maria Langa 20, 10, 5) represent coastal reef systems of the south coast with a sessile-benthic community dominated by soft corals (gorgonians), with live cover by scleractinian corals in the 12 -- 20% range, including one reef station dominated in terms of reef substrate cover by Fused Staghorn Coral, Acropora prolifera (Maria Langa 5). Reefs surveyed from the Cordillera de Fajardo (Palomino 20, Palominito 10, Cayo Diablo 5) represent coral reef systems of the east coast with high coral cover (20 -- 32% range) with a history of intense recreational use. Reefs surveyed at Isla de Culebra (Dakiti 20, Carlos Rosario 10, Luis Pena 5) represent systems from an upstream location, under low recreational impact, within the Luis Pena Marine Reserve with extensive coral buildup, but highly degraded and overgrown by encrusting biota, particularly red algae (Ramicrusta sp). From the monitoring surveys of the reefs in Vieques (El Seco 30, Canjilones 20, Boya Esperanza 10) and Vega Baja (Cibuco) live scleractinian coral cover remained statistically without significant change. Small increments of coral cover were measured at El Seco 30 and Esperanza 10, but these differences were within sampling variability error. Statistically significant variations of benthic community structure between monitoring surveys were detected for all of the three Vieques reefs (Permanova; p < 0.001). Differences were associated with a drastic decline (five to six fold) of reef substrate cover by turf algae, a previously dominant taxonomic category of reef substrate cover and a corresponding increase of cover by the previously unreported red crustose alga, Ramicrusta sp. with reef substrate cover as high as 58.7 % at Boya Esperanza 10. It is uncertain at this point if the displacement of turf algae by Ramicrusta sp. has had and/or is having any impact upon the Vieques reef corals, since substrate cover by corals at the reef stations monitored did not decline, but rather a mild increasing trend was observed. The implications of such colonization of hard bottom by encrusting red algae on coral growth, recruitment and competition for space are highly speculative at this point, but prospective monitoring of these reefs and others within the east coast (Fajardo, Culebra) will allow further assessments of these relationships. The density of fishes, including commercially important groupers (Epinephelus guttatus), snappers (Ocyurus chrysurus, Lutjanus jocu) and Spiny Lobsters (Panulirus argus) and the size of spiny lobsters at Luis Pena 10 within the Luis Pena Marine Reserve are the highest and largest (in the case of spiny lobsters) ever recorded in the PR Coral Reef Monitoring Program. Thus, it is here proposed that the fishing closure at this reef is having positive impacts in terms of the fish community"--Executive Summary.
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