, Volume 596, Issue 1, pp 121–132 | Cite as

Short-term decline of a Bahamian patch reef coral community: Rainbow Gardens Reef 1991–2004

Primary Research Paper


Temporal changes in the stony coral assemblages of Rainbow Gardens Reef (Iguana Cay, Exumas, Bahamas), were revealed by comparing quantitative community descriptors recorded in 1991 and 2004. Mean percent live cover significantly dropped from 13% to 3% between 1991 and 2004 (−77%, P < 0.01). During that period, coral abundance (number of colonies) decreased from 295 to 240 (−18.6%, P < 0.01). The community was less rich, equally diverse, more even, and the spatial structure of the reef had become more homogeneous. Most large Montastrea annularis, Agaricia agaricites, Porites porites, and Porites astreoides colonies were absent in 2004. Colonies were also more prone to stress related to algal smoothering, excess sediment, and endolithic boring. No disease was recorded on stony corals in 2004. Examination of M. annularis skeletons revealed intense bioerosion and a bright yellow skeletal band that corresponded to 1998–1999. Reefs worldwide suffered an unprecedented period of coral bleaching during the 1998 El Niño event, which is likely to have played a role in the decline of Rainbow Gardens. Evidence suggests that the synergistic actions of bleaching, bioerosion, and storm action reduced Rainbow’s formerly discrete coral patches to rubble. These results attest to the state of crisis of Caribbean coral reefs: even shallow, and presumably eurythermic communities in remote localities can be sensitive to change. Other patch reefs in the vicinity of Rainbow Gardens do not seem as degraded suggesting that local, small-scale differences may be important components of reef resilience.


Monitoring Stressor Temporal change Size-structure Phenotypic conditions 



The authors wish to thank M. Adjeroud, J. Lang, C. Plante, G. Sancho, A. Strand, A. Viricel and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, A. Viricel and C. Booker for their help in the field, the personnel of the Caribbean Marine Research Center (Lee Stocking Island) for technical support, N. Buster, C. Holmes, and G. Shinn (USGS), for SEM and LA-ICP-MS analyses on M. annularis samples, and M. Zokan for his help with coral X-ray photography. This work was funded by a grant from the Perry Institute for Marine Science (Project number CMRC-04-PRPD-04-04A) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Undersea Research Program to P. Dustan and E. Pante, and by a grant from the Slocum Lunz Foundation and the College of Charleston to E. Pante. Views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIMS, NOAA, or any of their sub-agencies. This is contribution 307 to the Grice Marine Laboratory.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Grice Marine Laboratory, Department of BiologyCollege of CharlestonCharlestonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyCollege of CharlestonCharlestonUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of Louisiana at LafayetteLafayetteUSA

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