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Understanding temporal and spatial variation of coral reef communities allows us to analyze the relative effects of local stressors, such as fishing and eutrophication, and global stressors, such as ocean warming. To test for spatial and temporal changes in coral reef communities, we combined recent benthic and fish surveys from 2016 with long-term data, dating back to the late 1990s, from four zones located at different distances from Central Havana, Cuba’s largest population center. These changes may indicate the shifting importance of local vs global stressors affecting reef communities. Regardless of the distance from Havana, we found that coral cover was uniformly low (approximately 10%), whereas macroalgal abundance was often high (approximately 65%). Similarly, fish biomass was low across zones, particularly for herbivorous fishes (approximately 12 g m−2) that are critical ecological drivers of reef structure and coral resilience. Analyses of longer-term trends revealed that coral cover near Havana has been below about 10% since at least 1995, potentially because of local stressors. In contrast, reefs farther from Havana maintained relatively high coral cover (approximately 30%) until the early 2000s, but declined more recently to approximately 15%, putting them near the Caribbean-wide average. These distinct spatial and temporal trajectories of reef communities may be the result of the expansion of local stressors away from Havana as the human population increased, or as fishers ventured farther away to exploit new resources. Alternatively, the more recent decline of reefs farther from population centers may have resulted from increasingly frequent global stressors, such as bleaching events and hurricanes.
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Duran, Alain; Shantz, A. A.; Burkepile, D. E.; Collado-Vides, Ligia; Ferrer, W. M.; Palma, Laura; Ramos, A.; and Gozalez-Diaz, S. P., "Fishing, pollution, climate change, and the long-term decline of coral reefs off Havana, Cuba" (2017). Center for Coastal Oceans Research Faculty Publications. 24.
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