Distribution and structure of the southernmost Caribbean coral reefs: golfo de Urabá, Colombia
Keywords:coral reefs, coral assemblages, Scleractinia, Colombia, Caribbean Sea
The Gulf of Urabá represents the southernmost portion of the Caribbean Sea. Due to the large amounts of sediment and freshwater discharged by the Atrato river and several minor streams, water conditions in the area are far from being optimal for coral settlement and growth. However, fringing and patch reefs are developed along the rocky shores of the northwest margin of the Gulf. Based on field observations performed at 44 sites (12 of them assessed quantitatively), interpretation of air photography of the area and depth profiles, the distribution, structure and zonation of the reefs are described. Classification analysis of the 12 sample sites yielded four coral assemblages: Diploria strigosa, crustose algae, Siderastrea siderea, Agaricia spp., and mixed massive corals. Other two assemblages, dominated respectively by Millepora complanata and thickets of Acropora palmata were noticed during reconnaissance dives. The distribution of these zones within the reef seems likely to be mainly controlled by wave exposure, bottom topography, sedimentation, and light penetration. Reef development, coral diversity and live coral cover increase along the coast in a SE-NW direction, with an evident maximum near to the cove of Sapzurro, suggesting an overall improvement of conditions for coral growth and settlement in that direction. A total of 33 species of hard corals were recorded during the survey. It is apparent that the live coral cover, particularly of foliose and branching species, has notably declined recently.
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