We attended the Caribbean Coral Reef Institute (CCRI) End of the International Year of the Reef Symposium at the University of Puerto Rico – Botanical Garden, Río Piedras on Dec 3, 2008.
The official naming of 2008 as the “International Year of the Coral Reef (IYOR)” designated by the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) has led a conscious effort in understanding the status of coral reefs. In accordance with ICRI, CCRI, a NOAA-funded organization dedicated to addressing priorities in short- and long-term management of coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean through research-based studies, conducted a symposium with the latest data pertaining to the present condition of coral reefs and the threats that they are currently facing. Local scientists and resource managers discussed a range of topics including the impacts of terrestrial activities on coral reefs, the need for important fish species for a healthy reef community, the use of acoustics in the detection of Red Hind spawning aggregation sites, among others.
Sadly, the current status of corals is not one to celebrate. The occurrence of coral diseases has been increasing for the past 10 years and is believed to be correlated with the increasing seawater temperature, which was reported as rising 1.8°C during winter season in southwest Puerto Rico since 1998. The restoration of corals has also been significantly hampered following the massive bleaching event of 2005. A consensus among reports of several marine areas under Puerto Rico jurisdiction indicated an approximate 50% decrease in live coral cover (specifically nine coral reef communities located in La Parguera) while others reported a striking collapse in coral species populations. These also included reductions in commercially-important fish that were previously seen roaming coral reefs and are now rarely found in these waters. Although these reports may seem disconcerting, several efforts by federal and local agencies are being made to develop and implement better management and assessment procedures that can help reduce the negative impacts on coral reefs. Unfortunately, this present generation will not be able to see whether these attempts will have a substantial effect on coral reef ecosystems because of the extensive lifetimes of corals. However, future generations may experience the outcome of our efforts to conserve the corals of today.
On a more positive note, CCRI has begun studies on the role of deep reef ecosystems (40-100 m) and their possible link to the present-day shallow reefs. Preliminary descriptions of deep reef fish communities off the southwest of Puerto Rico were presented, indicating an abundance of piscivores at these depths. Observations of the benthic community structure of mesophotic coral reefs (45 and 60 m) seem to indicate a higher percentage of live coral cover in particular areas. Discoveries of coral species and invertebrates unreported in the Atlantic Ocean are also being studied for taxonomic classification with considerable possibilities for new species.
For more information about CCRI, please visit their website