Fringing coral reef condition decline: assembling the puzzle of human impact associated to coastal development.

Monday, 15 December 2014
Joaquin Rodrigo Garza-Perez, Araceli Lopez-Patoni and Maria Julia Naranjo-Garcia, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Facultad de Ciencias, UMDI-Sisal, Mexico City, Mexico
Coral cover at Akumal fringing coral reef decreased 50% in a 13 yr. period, while the adjacent coastal zone increased its human-modified surface (associated to urban-tourist development) in 192%. In the same period, the number of local residents only increased 20% (1088 to1362) but the visitors did in 50% from ca. 200,000 to ca. 300,000. In this coastal zone, the phreatic acts as a storage of nutrients and pollutants from sources related to human activity, thus having a chronic run-off towards the reef, with acute episodes during the rainy season, specially during the anomalous rainy season of 2013. Using videotransects for monitoring the benthic reef components, changes were detected: from 2000 to 2013 the algae cover increased 166%, the reef condition and the reef structure indexes decreased in 50%, and coral diseases incidence increased 25% after a spike increment of 150% in 2010. The role of anthropogenic-stress indicators (population, modified land area, nutrients) was explored along reef condition indicators (reef structure and diversity indexes, topographic complexity, benthic cover and coral diseases incidence) via spatial analysis and multivariate statistics. Spatial patterns of the change in reef condition derived from high-resolution satellite imagery also provided insight for the stressors analysis and their relationships along the study period. Stress indicators (land-modified area and population) are correlated to decreases in coral cover and in reef structure. Direct stressors as sedimentation, nutrients and pollutants seem to be related to the decrease in overall reef condition, although time-series data is lacking; the contextual interpretation of their effects, paired with benthic condition characteristics suggest a strong relationship between these stressors and the decrease in the condition of the reef.