Coral Mortality, Recovery and Reef Degradation at Mexico Rocks Patch Reef Complex, Northern Belize, Central America: 1995-1997


The 1995 coral bleaching event in the western Caribbean was the first reported episode that significantly affected the Belize barrier and lagoonal patch reefs. Bleaching was attributed to a 2 mo period of warm water temperatures above 30°C. Near Ambergris Caye, barrier and patch reefs experienced up to 50% bleaching. At Mexico Rocks patch reef complex, the bleaching resulted in changes in reef health, community, and physical structure. Prior to the hyperthermal episode, patch reef surface area consisted of 47% healthy framework coral coverage, 12% secondarily colonized biotic coverage, 35% dead coral surfaces that were degraded by biological activity and physical erosion, and 6% cavities. six months after bleaching, most corals had regained their color, but, owing to coral mortality, areas of surface degradation had increased to an average 49% (p = 0.029 based on Kruskal-Wallis analyses). Eighteen months after bleaching, degraded surface areas expanded to 53% (p = 0.0366). Although re-coloring indicates rapid recovery for surviving corals, the persistence in dead coral surfaces suggests that reef skeletal structure recovery lags behind that of individual corals. Initial results of framework measurements indicate that bleaching events may result in an 'imbalance' in the carbonate production rate of coral reefs and produce mass wasting of the skeletal structure. Remapping of reef skeletal structure should establish quantitative measures for the long-term effects of bleaching on patch reef frameworks.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Biotic Phase Shift; Biodiversity; Carbonates; Degradation; Erosion; Rocks; Coral Mortality; Reef Degradation; Skeletal Structure; Surface Area; Marine Biology; Community Structure; Coral Bleaching; Coral Reef; Ecosystem Health; Regeneration; Ambergris Cay; Belize; Central America; Mexico Rocks; Orange Walk; Western Hemisphere; World; Anthozoa

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Article - Journal

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© 2004 Springer Netherlands, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Nov 2004