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Coral Reef Survey: North Sound of Antigua


A coral reef survey conducted in the North Sound region of Antigua between August 1st and 5th, 2005. This survey was supported by the Stanford Development Corporation and was conducted using the benthic and fish surveying methods of the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) program.

Results of the survey in the North Sound show a relatively healthy benthic community but an unhealthy and disturbed fish community. In comparison to other Caribbean sites in the AGRRA database, indicators of reef health of the benthic community of the North Sound rank relatively high. Live coral cover was high, the abundance of macroalgae (competitors with coral) was low, and the abundance of a major herbivore, the long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) was the second highest recorded in the AGRRA database. When compared to deeper sites located farther from shore on the west and southwest bank of Antigua, the habitat complexity of the North Sound would predict a more diverse and abundant fish community however, the opposite result was found. Overall, total fish abundance ranks comparatively high as well, but this is due to the relatively high abundance of very small herbivores on these reefs. Carnivores, specifically piscivores, and large herbivores were almost entirely absent from surveys, indicating a severely depleted and disturbed fish community.

Despite the presence of large reef areas of the North Sound dominated by coral rubble and standing dead colonies, indicating significant mortality of coral in the past, all indicators of reef health from our survey suggest a healthy and diverse re-colonizing benthos with the potential for future recovery and growth. However, the fish community is severely under-populated relative to the potential provided by the amount of available habitat in the North Sound area. These low abundances could be due to multiple factors, including increased adult mortality due to fishing pressures, as well as potentially a lack of larval fish supply from nearby reef areas. To address these issues, more information is needed on the oceanographic conditions and demographics of fishing effort in this region.

In addition, documentation of the distribution and composition of both the benthic and fish communities within the entire Antigua-Barbuda shelf system is needed to properly assess the condition of these populations, and assess the extent and potential for recovery in the Sound and elsewhere (see separate report on the sedimentological description of the area). There were reef areas where seaweed levels were not as excessive as on reefs in some other countries, possibly indicating low nutrient levels. However, upcoming changes to the watersheds make it vital that a thorough understanding of nutrient processes affecting the reefs be attained, particularly given the increased sensitivity to nutrient loading often associated with a disturbed fish community.

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