The accumulation and seasonal impact of riverine discharge on coral reefs of the Meso-American Region (MAR) were estimated using a numerical simulation of river runoff dispersion. River-reef connectivity, or source-sink dynamics of terrestrial runoff was further assessed from more than 400 watersheds of the region onto discrete coral reef areas. Using land use for 2003 and 2004 in the MAR, this work builds upon a Regional Ocean Modeling System simulation of the MAR validated by ocean color satellite data, and on the monthly river nutrient and sediment load and discharge provided by the World Resources Institute using the N-SPECT model. Analysis of the variability of simulated runoff transport to the reefs showed that reefs of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) were mostly impacted from June to September, following the peak time of river discharge. At that time, the coastal and oceanic circulations contribute quickly to expel the runoff from the MBRS. High runoff concentration waters leaving the eastern coast of Honduras during the months of October to December return to the southwestern MAR in March as they are entrained in a cyclonic gyre. Coral reefs of the MAR are thus impacted twice, first from the coastal side with runoff of local origin and later from the oceanic side with runoff from mixed origin. High probability of connectivity between rivers and remote reefs is established as this study revealed that river runoff from the north shore of Honduras has a wide-spread impact on most of the coral reefs of southern Belize, while watersheds on the Gulf of Honduras are mostly connected to coral reefs in the northern shore of Honduras. Although the level of remote influence (or runoff concentration reaching the reef) is lower than the local, the cumulative effect of numerous remote river-reef connections remains significant.
- Coral reefs
- Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System
- Terrestrial runoff
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Aquatic Science