As global climate change persists, anthropogenic impacts will continue to exacerbate current environmental degradation, particularly to coral reef ecosystems. To mitigate this critical situation, coral reef conservation efforts have focused on the development of effective marine protected areas (MPAs). However, successful ecological conservation and restoration require an understanding of previous community states – unaffected by anthropogenic impacts – to serve as a basis for comparison. This study pursues a paleoecological approach to understanding the community structure of Caribbean coral reefs prior to human impacts. Results are utilized to assess the efficacy of a developing marine protected area in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles.
Systematic censuses of Late Pleistocene fossil coral reefs were compared to censuses of modern reef sites within and outside the Curaçao Marine Park. The Late Pleistocene coral reefs preserve communities with higher abundance and diversity than the modern sites Modern reefs outside park boundaries support a distinctly different community structure than both Pleistocene reefs and modern reefs located within park boundaries. Additionally, modern reefs situated within the park show a greater community resemblance to the Pleistocene reefs. We conclude that the nascent Curaçao Marine Park – lacking active management and definitive conservation regulations – provides some degree of protection to modern reefs within its borders. Furthermore, the study illustrates the feasibility of utilizing paleoecological studies to inform issues related to marine conservation.
Chelsea Korpanty, ’11
Majors: Geology, Art and Art History
Sponsor: Benjamin Greenstein