Current status of Acropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis in the Colombian Caribbean: demography, coral cover and condition assessment.
Acropora provides an example of reef degradation, as evidenced by population reductions in Caribbean reefs. However, data on the current status of Acropora populations in Colombia are lacking. In this study, reef habitats were surveyed for Acropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis throughout the Colombian Caribbean, and the size structure, coverage and colony conditions of their populations were evaluated. Acropora palmata size classes were negatively skewed, indicating low recruitment. This species exhibited a patch-type distribution around Tayrona, Isla Fuerte and Isla Arena; these localities exhibited the highest cover among the surveyed regions. The lowest coral cover was recorded for the Rosario Islands. Healthy colonies were dominant; however, disease and damselfish territories were common. The size class data of Acropora cervicornis indicated the persistence of small colonies; however, no recruits were observed. The distribution was dispersed, with important patches and the highest cover observed around the Urabá Gulf and Rosario Islands. Overall, the cover was lower than 10%. Few healthy colonies were observed, and macroalgae and sponges were common. Conservation and management efforts are required for both species; for Acropora palmata, efforts targeting the Rosario Islands are needed, whereas Acropora cervicornis is in critical condition throughout the Colombian Caribbean.