Ecology

Caribbean Coral

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Science  01 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6158, pp. 535
DOI: 10.1126/science.342.6158.535-a
CREDIT: © JESSE CANCELMO/ALAMY

Coral reefs occupy a vanishingly small proportion of the oceans yet are home to 25% of marine diversity, nurture important fisheries, provide vital coastal protection, and offer a variety of economic benefits from tourism and associated activities. Predictions of how well and how rapidly reefs can recover from damage due to extreme weather events or disease are often highly uncertain, largely because of the lack of long-term, systematically collected data. Manfrino et al. established transects and quadrats around Little Cayman Island in the Caribbean, a region that is notorious for the generally degraded state of its reef systems. Half of the coastline of this small island is marine protected area, which includes zones of no-take fisheries. Between 1999 and 2004, thermal stress led to coral bleaching and infectious disease that reduced coral cover by more than 40%, yet 7 years later, the coral cover, the density of juvenile colonies, and the overall size structure of the coral assemblages all had returned to the pre-1999 state. The ability of this reef to recover was attributed to limited human disturbance, its relative isolation, and the recruitment of juvenile herbivorous fish, which help to keep competing seaweeds at bay.

PLOS ONE 8, e75432 (2013).

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