The destruction of a large Acropora palmata bank- barrier reef and subsequent depletion of this reef-building coral off Barbados, WI

Ian G. MacIntyre, Peter W. Glynn, Marguerite A. Toscano

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Abstract

Nine study sites of the reef crest along the entire length of a 15 km-long bank-barrier reef off the southeast coast of Barbados indicated that the surface is composed of mostly reworked fragments of Acropora palmata covered with macroalgae, crustose coralline algae and turf algae. Known as Cobbler's Reef, this feature had no live colonies of A. palmata at our study sites and supported only small scattered colonies of corals, mainly Diploria spp., Porites astreoides and the hydrocoral Millepora complanata. Eleven of 29 surface-sample radiocarbon dates plot above the western Atlantic sea-level curve between approximately 3,300 to 4,500 cal yrs (calibrated, calendar 14C years) ago. This suggests that the reef complex was extensively damaged by a series of severe storms during this period. A reduced number of in situ framework dates follow that period and plot at acceptable depths of growth below this sea-level curve. The most recent dates are 320 and 400 cal yrs old. The lack of coral framework recovery and final demise of this reef are probably related to a number of disturbances. Although white-band disease, bleaching, and recruitment limitations could have played a role, a lack of herbivory in this area of constant heavy wave action probably allowed heavy algal growth that prevented the re-establishment of a vigorous coral reef following the period of severe storm activity. Finally, the turbidity associated with the clearing of land for sugarcane agriculture in the mid-1600s likely killed the last of the sediment-sensitive A. palmata on Cobbler's Reef. The more recent almost complete loss of A. palmata from other reefs off Barbados is probably related to storm damage and nutrient runoff and construction associated with tourism development. This is an expanded report of an earlier publication of this study, with descriptions of sampling sites and documentation of the demise of A. palmata island wide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalAtoll Research Bulletin
Issue number545
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography

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