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Bahamas coral reef report card: Vol. 1: 2011–2013
Dahlgren, Craig
Kramer, Patricia Richards
Lang, Judith
Ken Marks
Krista Sherman
Lindy Knowles
Place of Publication:
Nassau, Bahamas
Atlantis Blue Project Foundation
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25 p.


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Coral reef conservation -- Bahamas
Target Audience:
general ( marctarget )


Statement of Responsibility:
Craig Dahlgren, Patricia Richards Kramer, Judith Lang, Ken Marks, Krista Sherman and Lindy Knowles.

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The University of The Bahamas Institutional Repository
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The University of The Bahamas Institutional Repository
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Volume 1: 2011Andros, Cay Sal Bank, Little Bahama Bank, New Providence & Rose Island, Southern Bahamas


C oral Reefs are vital components of the ecology, economy, and culture of e Bahamas. From 2011 to 2013 a total of 214 reefs were assessed throughout e Bahamas, including sites on Cay Sal Bank, Andros, the Southern Bahamas, New Providence and Rose Island, the Little Bahama Bank, and partial surveys in e Exuma Cays and Berry Islands. e health of these reefs was determined by examining the status of six key indicators. For each indicator, reef health was scored as being Good, Fair, Impaired, or Poor, and an overall Bahamian Reef Health Index (BRHI) was calculated by averaging scores of individual indicators. Bahamian reefs were classied as Impaired overall, but there was much variability among areas and reef zones. Other key ndings include: þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ of t he Caribbean and macroalgae coverage was relatively high. þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ greatest for New Providence. þ þ þ þ þ þ þ larly Cay Sal Bank, but similar to elsewhere in the Caribbean on average. þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ wer e 2 times greater than the rest of the Caribbean. þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ th e Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park provides protection. þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ þ wer e practically absent from the rest of the Caribbean. Results also point to the impacts of specic threats and call for several actions. Key threats aecting specic areas include: Coastal development Illegal shing Legal but unsustainable shing Climate change To combat these threats, specic strategies can be implemented to put Bahamian reefs back on the path to being vibrant ecosystems teeming with marine life and supporting the lives of Bahamians. Key strategies include: Creating island development plans to prevent degradation of sensitive habitats. þ Im proving sheries management through better enforcement and revising regulations so they are based on the best available science. Implementing a network of marine protected areas encompassing at least 20% of nearshore waters and designed based on science and stakeholder input. Rehabilitating critical ecosystems and facilitating recovery of key species. Executive Summary þ. ................................... 1 Coral Reefs of The Bahamas þ Reef Types and Zones þ. .............................. 2 Introduction to Indicators þ. ............................. 4 Evaluating Reef Health þ. ............................... 5 Benthic Index þ Reef Building Corals vs. Competitors þ. ............ 6 þ þ Coral Condition Index þ Partial Mortality, Disease, and Bleaching þ. ....... 8 Reef Structure Index þ Corals Create Habitat Structur e þ. ................ 10 Coral Recruitment Index þ Reef Resilience Requires Recruits þ. ............... 12 þ Grazing Cleans Reefs of Seaweed þ. ............... 14 Grouper Index þ Healthy Reefs Need Groupers þ. ................... 16 Bahamian Reef Health Index þ Reef Health Summary þ. ............................ 18 Comparing The Bahamas to the Caribbean þ. ....... 20 Threats to Bahamian Coral Reefs þ Causes of Reef Decline þ. ........................... 22 Recommended Actions þ Reverse the Decline þ. ............................... 24 Acknowledgements þ. ....................... Back Cover ON THE CþoOVER Photo Craig Dahlgren Parrotsh promote reef health by removing seaweed. Coral reefs support key sheries. Healthy coral reefs support a diversity of sea life. 1 iT C E S


Coral Reefs of re BahamasAs a nation of over 700 islands and cays bathed in crystal-clear blue waters, the marine environment is critical to the ecology, economy, and culture of e Bahamas. is is particularly true of coral reefs, which harbour the greatest diversity of life in e Bahamas, support sheries that feed its people, are vital to the Bahamian economy, and are woven into the fabric of Bahamian culture. e Bahamas has more coral reef area than any other na tion in the region and boasts one of the world’s largest contiguous coral reefs, the Andros Barrier Reef. Reef TypesBahamian coral reefs are as varied as the islands they surround, based on their location and the environmental conditions they face. Along the east side of Andros, for example, a barrier reef parallels the shore, separated from the island by a lagoon. In other areas, reefs fringe the shoreline, such as in e Exuma Cays, Berry Islands, and parts of the southeast Bahamas. Reefs also form on the edge of banks where there are no large islands, such as Cay Sal Bank, or along the eastern edge of the Tongue of the Ocean, southwest of New Providence. How reefs develop depends on their environment, including exposure to wind and waves. Tidal ows o shallow banks can further expose corals to sediments and large uctuations in temperatures. As a result, the composition and growth of coral species on reefs can vary, along with the structure they provide as habitat for sh and other reef creatures, leading to dierent species assemblages on dierent reefs.C R Tf Bf Scattered nearshore patch reefs o Abaco. Mounding corals in the fore reef zone. Elkhorn coral along a reef crest in e Exuma Cays. 3 2 Reef ZonesIn e Bahamas there are three major reef zones—reef crest, patch reef, and fore reef—each with its own set of species. e reef crest is where waves may be seen breaking oshore (barrier reefs) or near rocky shorelines (fringing reefs). is zone can be formed by large stands of branching elkhorn coral. In lagoons sheltered by reef crests are patch reefs, small reefs that rise above the surrounding seaoor. Patch reefs also form on shallow banks leeward of islands (e.g., Rose Island) or in channels between islands (Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park). Oshore from the reef crest is the fore reef, which extends out to the drop-o and is oen dominated by large mounding corals.Natural Variability vs. Human ImpactsHuman impacts can aect reefs by altering their environments, potentially reducing diversity and limiting the ecological services and benets that coral reefs provide. In this report card we examine both natural variability and human impacts and how they aect key aspects of reef health.Patch Reef Reef Crest Fore ReefReef Types and Zones


Measures of Coral Reef HealthReef health was evaluated by examining the condition of several indicators on reefs throughout e Bahamas. e indicators take into account the current status of corals and other key species responsible for maintaining reef health. ese indicators show how reefs are aected by various threats and have important implications for the management of reefs throughout e Bahamas. Based on the status of individual indicators, a Bahamian Reef Health Index (BRHI) was developed to grade overall reef health. All reef surveys from 2011 used Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA v5) methods to assess corals and other organisms living on reefs, including populations of key sh species. Because these surveys were part of individual research and monitoring projects in dierent parts of e Bahamas, with dierent goals and objectives, as opposed to a national monitoring program, these assessments should be considered as representative of reefs only in those areas surveyed. Benthic Index e amount of a reef covered by live coral and other organisms that promote reef growth versus the amount that is covered by organisms that overgrow or displace corals is compared in the Benthic Index. Higher scoring sites have more live corals and other reef builders.Coral Condition IndexWhen a coral suers natural stresses or human impacts, parts of the colony may die, or the entire colony may die. is index compares the average percentage of live coral on colonies greater than 25 cm at each site because corals of this size would have been exposed to multiple threats and stresses.Reef Structure IndexReefs are constantly being built by corals and destroyed by storms and organisms that erode the reef structure. is index provides an assessment of the net structure that a reef provides by averaging the maximum vertical relief measured at spaced intervals along transects. Sites with higher scores have more reef structure and more hiding places for sh and reef creatures.Coral Recruitment IndexRecruitment is measured as the number of new corals on a reef. While coral size varies among species, recruits are considered as any coral less than 4 cm in diameter for this index. Reef sites need to be periodically replenished with new coral recruits to replace corals that die o. Large Parrotsh IndexIn e Bahamas, large parrotsh play a key role in reducing the amount of seaweed that can overgrow corals, particularly new recruits. is index examines the density of large parrotsh (> 30 cm) on reefs at each site. Grouper IndexLarge grouper species are among the most important shery species on reefs and play an important ecological role as predators, controlling populations of species that harm corals. Healthy grouper populations include sh across all size ranges, but they must have large adults (> 40 cm) that reproduce. is index examines grouper abundance at sites, with greater values assigned to larger sh.Bahamian Reef Health Index (BRHI)e scores from the other indicators are combined to calculate the BRHI by assigning the grades of the other indicators a numeric score of 1–4 (Poor to Good) and averaging the score. is index was only calculated for sites with at least 5 of the other 6 indicators calculated. IND þiI CATOR P þOOROOR IMP þAA I þRR E þDD FA þiI R GOODBenthic Index* 4 Coral Condition (% alive) < 404059607980100 Reef Structure (cm) < 33336667100> 100 Recruit Density (no./m2) < Large Parrotsh Density (no./100m2) 0> 1.0 Grouper Index* 00.50.511.01.12.0> 2 Bahamian Reef Health Index* (BRHI) 1.01.751.762. * ese indices do not have units. A description of how they are calculated is available at ScaleIndividual reef sites were scored on their condition for each indicator, with grades of Poor, Impaired, Fair, and Good. e grading scale was developed based on information about the healthy status of each indicator from historic accounts, comparisons of reefs that are exposed to minimal stresses or human impacts, or from studies of coral reef ecology. e condition of an indicator on any reef may reect both environmental conditions and human impacts. For example, a reef may be Poor due to natural limiting conditions, or it may have degraded from various human threats. Reef ScoresFor each geographic area of e Bahamas that was surveyed, scores for each index are displayed on maps using a color-coded circular graph showing the proportion of fore reefs and patch reefs (summed together) receiving each score (see facing page for details). e average score for the area is shown in the center of the circle, along with the number of reef sites surveyed in each zone. Summary scores across all reef sites in all areas are shown for each reef zone using the same format in the upper right margin of each map.Poor Impaired Fair Good 5 4E R Hf In In Map of Survey Areas and Sites


Bf In þo þt þern þn þros þrest þatc þore þa þal Building ReefsCorals with their stony skeletons are the primary architects of reefs, with pink crustose coralline algae acting like cement to bind pieces of the reef together and providing new surfaces for coral larvae to settle and grow. Other organisms like macroalgae (seaweeds) and some sponges and tunicates inhibit larval settlement or kill corals, thereby preventing reef growth. Similarly, small turf algae may bind sediment and smother corals. e balance between organisms that promote reef growth and those that inhibit reef growth currently is tipped in favor of reef inhibitors across all reef zones and regions of e Bahamas, with reefs around Cay Sal Bank having the lowest overall Benthic Index scores. Only one patch reef o New Providence Island had a high score indicating high amounts of reef promoters relative to reef inhibitors. Benthic Index scores reect several factors that have resulted in the loss of coral on Bahamian reefs. ese losses may be reversed, however, through several key strategies discussed in the Recommendations section.Coral CoverIn the 1970s and early 1980s, corals covered an average of approximately 35% of the seaoor on Caribbean reefs. Since then many corals have died from temperature stress during particularly hot periods, disease outbreaks, pollution, sedimentation, and other factors. is has resulted in the loss of more than half of the live coral cover on reefs. At present, live corals only cover an average of 10% across all Bahamian reefs surveyed, with some areas like New Providence and Rose Island having live coral cover up to 17% on average. Major source of coral loss in e Bahamas have been mass bleaching events and subsequent disease outbreaks. Crest Patch Fore Crest Patch Fore MacroalgaeMacroalgae, or seaweeds, can overgrow or outcompete corals if nutrients are high or there are not enough herbivorous grazing animals to keep them in check. While we commonly refer to reefs in e Bahamas as coral reefs, currently there is a higher cover of macroalgae than corals on most reefs. e actual amount varies by reef zone and location, with macroalgae covering an average of 50–75% of many reefs on Cay Sal Bank and in the Southern Bahamas. eir coverage is lower (20–25%) in some reef zones on Andros and New Providence, yet even here macroalgae still cover more of the reef surface than corals on most reefs. Note the vast dierence in scale between the amount of macroalgae and corals in the graphs to the le.Coral BleachingBleaching occurs when corals are stressed and lose the tiny, yellowish-brown algae that ordinarily live within their tissues and provide them with energy from photosynthesis. Mass bleaching is usually a response to warm water temperatures—either extremely high temperatures or temperatures slightly elevated above normal conditions over an extended period of time. Although dierent species or even dierent colonies of the same species oen vary in their response to warm waters, severe bleaching events aect the majority of corals on a reef. Corals can recover from bleaching but their growth and reproduction may be aected. Parts or all of a severely aected coral colony may die either when bleached or from the eects of coral diseases that outbreak aer severe bleaching events. Delayed eects of the 1998 mass-bleaching event eventually destroyed up to half of all corals in many central Bahamian reefs. e loss of large reef-building corals is still evident 15 years later as populations of these species are slow to recover. Since 1998, late summer bleaching has recurred several times, most notably in 2015, when the vast majority of corals were bleached on many reefs in e Bahamas. Severe bleaching and post-bleaching mortality pose great threats to coral reefs and are expected to worsen as our climate continues to change. Improving coral reef management to lessen impacts of bleaching and promoting recovery aer bleaching events is critical. High cover of reef-building coral on a fore reef. Macroalgae cover is high on Bahamian reefs.7 6 Poor Impaired Fair Good Reef Builders vs. Competitors


C Cn InCoral Colony Partial MortalityCorals are subject to a wide range of potentially lethal threats. Most reef-building corals are colonial: when aected by diseases, predators or other stressors, parts of the colony may die while unaected areas continue to grow and thrive. is is called partial colony mortality. Small dead areas, such as sh bites, may rapidly heal as living coral tissue overgrows the exposed skeleton. Areas of extensive mortality due to disease or bleaching, however, don’t recover quickly and are oen colonized by other organisms. As corals that survive stresssors get older and larger, they are likely to accumulate some dead areas. e average amount of partial mortality on large colonies (over 25 cm in maximum length) was lower within Bahamian reef crests than fore reefs, and also lower in corals on Little Bahama Bank and Cay Sal Bank than in the other geographic areas, with these areas getting an average score of Fair and other reef types and areas getting a score of Impaired. Minimizing threats to corals and building resilience of coral reef ecosystems can help corals heal and reduce partial mortality.How Common is Partial Mortality?In e Bahamas, anywhere from 35% to over 60% of all corals (> 4 cm) had some amount of partial mortality, with reefs on the Little Bahama Bank and the New Providence area having fewer corals showing signs of partial mortality than other sites. is may be due to the greater prevalence of smaller and perhaps younger corals in these areas (see Reef Structure Index) that would not have experienced as many periods of stress, such as the 1998 bleaching event, which caused widespread mortality in e Bahamas. þo þt þern þn þros þrest þatc þore þa þal Coral DiseaseAn important source of partial mortality is disease. ere are approximately a dozen signs of disease that aect corals in the Caribbean, with some aecting only a few species and others a wide range of species. Diseases also vary in how aggressively they kill coral colonies. During our surveys, the prevalence of disease varied among areas, with some having only 1% or fewer corals infected and others having up to 4% of all corals infected. Coral bleaching can also cause partial mortality in aected areas and make corals more vulnerable to disease. Because bleaching is a periodic event primarily occuring during particularly warm summers, the importance of bleaching for determining coral condition may be underrepresented in our surveys, which were conducted during dierent months between April 2011 and September 2013. þD Crest Patch Fore Crest Patch Fore Coral displaying partial mortality. Coral showing signs of bleaching. Partial mortality resulting from coral with Black Band Disease (inset).9 8 Partial Mortality, Disease, and BleachingPoor Impaired Fair Good


R S InCorals Create HabitatReef structure created by stony corals is the key to supporting the remarkable abundance and diversity of life on coral reefs. Shelter created by corals provides homes for shes and other reef creatures. e unique plating, mounding, or branching growth forms of dierent corals provide a complex threedimensional structure with holes of various sizes and shapes ideally suited as shelter for a variety of sh and invertebrate animals. In surveys, fore reefs generally had more structure for sh and invertebrates than patch reefs or reef crest zones. roughout e Bahamas, Reef Structure Index scores were Fair on average, with the greatest structure being found on reefs o New Providence and Rose Island and lowest at Cay Sal for the sites surveyed. While reef structure on Cay Sal Bank may be Impaired due to natural factors, low reef structure can reduce habitat for some species and limit their populations there.Coral Abundance and SizeOne factor that contributes to the structure of a reef is the density of its corals. e more colonies on a reef, the more hiding places for sh and invertebrates of all sizes. Areas with the greatest number of corals had some of the greatest reef structure. e size of corals also plays an important role, with larger corals providing greater reef structure. þo þt þern þn þros þrest þatc þore þa þal Factors Intuencing Coral GrowthSome reefs may have naturally low structural relief. In environments where corals are frequently stressed or suitable settlement substrate is low, growth may be inhibited and reef structure low. is may be the case for reefs with uctuations in temperature, salinity or high amounts of sediment. Human impacts can also limit reef structure. In areas with increased nutrients from runo or poor sewage treatment that promote growth of algae, or high sedimentation rates due to inappropriate coastal development, coral growth may be limited.Coral Growth vs. BioerosionAs colonial corals grow, their skeletons provide habitat for sh and other creatures. Some species can live for hundreds of years while continuing to grow and they may reach huge sizes, exceeding several meters in diameter or height. All corals do eventually die, however, and their skeletons become available for other bottom-dwelling organisms, including larval corals, to colonize. Some of these organisms bore into the dead coral structure, weakening it. At the same time, even while they are alive, some organisms may scrape or break o pieces of coral, or excavate cavities in their skeletons. is is called bioerosion, and it can directly reduce or weaken the coral skeletons, allowing fragmentation during storms. Coral growth must be able to outpace bioerosion for a reef’s structure to remain intact. As thermal stress, diseases, pollution, and other factors cause widespread coral death, continued bioerosion further decreases the three-dimensional structure of reefs. Over time, this leads to decreases in the ability of reefs to provide habitats for other creatures. Loss of structure also has economic impacts as ecological services ordinarily provided by reefs, such as buering against storm damage or supporting key sheries, are reduced. þD Crest Patch Fore Diameter Width Height Grunts use reef structure for shelter. Living staghorn coral creates habitat. Dead staghorn coral rubble has little habitat value.11 10Corals Create Habitat StructurePoor Impaired Fair Good


C R InRecruitment and Reef RecoveryRecruitment is the addition of new corals to a reef when larvae successfully settle and grow into small corals. Reefs are dependent on new recruits to recover from the natural stresses and human impacts that kill corals. Without the addition of new corals, reefs will slowly die and degrade to the point that they cannot support the shes and invertebrates that depend on the habitat structure their growth creates. Assessments of small (< 2 cm) and large (2 cm) recruits indicate that recruitment of corals is low throughout e Bahamas, across all reef zones, with only a few fore reef sites showing signicant recruitment. Andros and the Southern Bahamas had more recruits than the other areas, but even here recruit densities were low. Fewer Corals Limit RecruitmentBroadcasting corals only spawn over a few nights each summer, with all colonies of any given species releasing their gametes (eggs and sperm) within a few minutes of each other in a highly synchronized event. Successful fertilization of the eggs depends in part on how close corals are to each other. Higher coral density means more gametes are produced and eggs are more likely to be fertilized than if there are fewer corals producing gametes. For some species, reproductive output may be enhanced locally through propagation eorts to assist species recovery. þo þt þern þn þros þrest þatc þore þa þal Broadcasters and BroodersCorals of dierent species use one of two reproductive modes. e rst mode is broadcast spawning in which gametes are released into the water and eggs are fertilized as they dri. Most major reef-building species are broadcast spawners. For other species, only the male gametes are shed to fertilize eggs that are retained within coral polyps where the larvae develop to an advanced stage before they are released. ese species that brood fertilized eggs tend to be smaller “weedy” species. Despite most major reef-building corals being broadcast spawners, a greater number of recruits from brooding species are reported in our surveys. Increased success of broadcast spawners will be needed for Bahamian reefs to be resilient. Poor Settlement Habitat Abects RecruitmentFertilized eggs develop into larvae that are carried by ocean currents for hours (some brooders) to days or weeks before they are ready to settle to the bottom. Coral larvae cannot attach themselves to reef areas overgrown with macroalgae or encrusted with sponges or other invertebrates. ey prefer areas with crustose coralline algae. Even when they do nd a place to settle, they are vulnerable to being overgrown and killed by macroalgae or animals that aggressively colonize the seaoor. Well-grazed reefs are better suited to support new coral recruits. Large Recruits Small Recruits Large Recruits Small Recruits þD þD High coral recruitment leads to high coral cover. Elkhorn coral spawning. Elkhorn coral recruits on pink crustose coralline algae (inset).13 12 Photo Benjamin MuelleReef Resilience Requires RecruitsPoor Impaired Fair Good


L Pf InLarge Parrotsh are Important GrazersWhen corals die, the space on the reef they leave behind is oen occupied by seaweeds called macroalgae. Removal of macroalgae by grazing is needed to clear space for coral larvae to settle and to prevent new recruits and small corals from getting overgrown and killed. Several sh and invertebrate species are important grazers on reefs. At present, the dominant grazers on most Bahamian reefs are adult parrotsh of species that grow greater than 30 cm in length, like the stoplight, queen, yellowtail, blue, midnight, and rainbow parrotshes. Although populations of these large parrotsh species are relatively healthy throughout e Bahamas, these species are commonly taken as bycatch in sh pots. Invasive lionsh can further reduce parrotsh populations as well as those of other native species. In recent years, a parrotsh shery has also developed and grown in some parts of e Bahamas. As a result, the healthiest parrotsh populations are in e Exuma Cays and southern Berry Islands where marine protected areas protect them from shing. Where parrotsh populations thrive, there may be less macroalgae and more coral recruits. þo þt þern þn þros þmas þrest þatc þore þa þal Protecting ParrotshIn several parts of the wider Caribbean, like Belize, Bermuda, and Bonaire, it is illegal to harvest parrotsh. In these places the ban has resulted in a shi from decreasing parrotsh numbers to an increase since the ban was put in place. Protecting nursery areas, like seagrasses and mangroves, is also important for healthy sh populations, including parrotsh. Other HerbivoresMany sh and invertebrates are herbivores on reefs. e smaller species of parrotsh, and juveniles of the large species, consume turf algae and can graze on macroalgae, but their smaller size limits their grazing ability. Blue tang, surgeonsh, doctorsh, chubs, and some damselsh also graze algae, as do several crustacean and urchin species. Long-spined Urchinse long-spined urchin Diadema antillarum was once the most eective and important grazer on reefs throughout the Caribbean. ese urchins are capable of clearing large areas of macroalgae and keeping it clear for coral larvae to settle and grow. However, in 1983, an unknown pathogen nearly wiped out the entire population of long-spined urchins in the Caribbean region. Over the past 30+ years, their populations have begun to recover in some parts of the Caribbean, but populations have yet to see widespread recovery in e Bahamas, with densities typically reaching only 0.02 per m2 or less. ese densities are not high enough to keep reefs clean of macroalgae and are also below reproductive thresholds, further preventing their recovery. At present, research is being conducted to see where populations are recovering, why they are recovering in these limited areas, and if we can increase the rate of recovery for long-spined urchins on reefs throughout e Bahamas. Patch Fore Crest Patch Fore þD Long-spined sea urchins, Diadema antillarum, are eective grazers. Stoplight parrotsh and other large parrotsh remove macroalgae from reefs.15 14Grazing Cleans Reefs of Seaweed Poor Impaired Fair Good


G In People and Reefs Depend on Healthy Grouper PopulationsHealthy populations of predatory species like large groupers are important for maintaining reef ecosystems by controlling populations of sh and invertebrates that harm corals. ey also support valuable commercial and subsistence sheries. Of the sites surveyed in e Bahamas, populations of large grouper species, such as Nassau grouper, red hind (“strawberry grouper”), tiger grouper, and black grouper (“rocksh”), were healthiest in e Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, where abundances where higher and sizes larger than other areas. Fewer sh and smaller sizes, such as reported for Cay Sal Bank and the Southern Bahamas, may indicate unsustainable shing. re Nassau Grouper Is EndangeredWhile once common on Bahamian reefs, Nassau groupers were found in a less than 1/3 of the surveys in e Bahamas from 2011. Minimum size limits and a seasonal closure to protect spawning Nassau groupers are important steps towards ensuring sustainable populations of this species, but stronger protection and increased compliance with regulations by shers and consumers is also needed to improve recovery of the species. þo þt þern þn þros þmas þrest þatc þore þa þal Habitat Is ImportantMany species of grouper use multiple habitats throughout their life, moving from nearshore habitats to oshore reefs as they grow. Higher abundances of large groupers were reported for fore reef and patch reefs than for reef crest habitats, with larger sh in fore reef than patch reef habitats. Snapper Populations Are Abected by Fishing and HabitatSnappers are also important commercial sh species for e Bahamas. Like some grouper species, snappers use several habitats as they grow, settling as larvae into seagrass and mangrove nurseries, where they live as juveniles, and then moving to patch reefs, reef crest, and fore reef habitats as they mature. Snapper populations are aected by the availability of habitats and the extent to which they are shed. Snapper abundance throughout e Bahamas reects both factors, with sites close to large seagrass and mangrove areas, like those on the Little Bahama Bank and Andros, having greater density than areas with fewer mangroves, like the small islands in e Exuma Cays.Spawning AggregationsLarge grouper and snapper species form spawning aggregations where all reproduction occurs for the entire year at specic sites and times. Nassau groupers spawn around the December, January or February full moon, while many snapper species spawn around the full moon in the late spring or summer. At spawning aggregations, hundreds to tens of thousands of sh that travel up to hundreds of miles gather to spawn over a few days. Because so many sh from a large area are present at spawning sites during these times, they are extremely vulnerable to shing. Catching sh before they have a chance to spawn will also limit reproduction from the site and reduce future generations. At present there is a closed season for Nassau groupers during their spawning times from December 1 to February 28 annually. Nevertheless, illegal shing is still common. ere is a need for better compliance and enforcement of the closed season, and consumers need to stop buying Nassau groupers at this time. Other snappers and groupers would benet from similar closed seasons. þD þD Nassau grouper spawning aggregation, showing gravid females and sh in spawning coloration. Nassau grouper (top) and black grouper, known locally as rocksh (bottom), are important predators on reefs.17 16Photo þCC . Knapp, Shedd þAA quariumHealthy Reefs Need Groupers Poor Impaired Fair Good


Overall Reef Healthe Bahamian Reef Health Index (BRHI) provides a comprehensive summary of the health of each patch reef or fore reef by averaging the scores of the other indicators for all sites in which at least 5 indicators were measured. None of the surveyed reefs were categorized as being in Good health overall. Most sites were in Impaired or Fair condition. ere were some dierences in reef health across sites and reef zones, with the reefs of Cay Sal Bank having the poorest condition, with an average score of Poor. Average reef health index scores were Impaired for all reef zones surveyed, but reef crests had no sites that were scored as Poor and patch reefs had the greatest proportion of Poor and Impaired sites. It is important to note, however, that relatively few reef crests were surveyed, and none were conducted on Cay Sal Bank where scores were generally lower for the other two zones.Androse reefs on Andros reect average conditions in e Bahamas as a whole, with scores of Impaired for 3 indicators and Fair for 3 indicators. e overall BRHI score for most reefs was either Impaired (43%) or Fair (41%). On a positive note, while longspined urchin and coral recruit densities were low throughout e Bahamas, some of the highest densities were reported from Andros. It is also worth noting that 13 of the reef crest sites surveyed were along the Andros barrier reef, and although not included in BRHI values for Andros, they were a major component in the BRHI score for the reef crest zone. þo þt þern þn þros þrest þatc þore þa þal Cay SalNearly 60% of Cay Sal’s reefs were considered to be in Poor health and only 3% had BRHI scores of Fair. ese reefs had the lowest average scores for Benthic, Coral Recruitment, Reef Structure, and Grouper Indices, leading to a BRHI score of Poor. ey also had the highest cover of macroalgae and lowest average densities of key grazers—large parrotsh and long-spined urchins. Little Bahama BankReefs on the Little Bahama Bank had an overall BRHI score of Impaired. ey had the lowest average density of large parrotsh, were among the lowest in average coral cover, and had the highest prevalence of disease. Nevertheless, these reefs showed positive signs of having a relatively high abundance of long-spined urchins on shallow reef crests and low levels of partial coral mortality. New Providence & Rose Islande condition of reefs o New Providence and Rose Island varied considerably based on their proximity to Nassau.1 New Provi dence reefs had a relatively high percentage of sites with large groupers, surpassed only by e Exumas. What set these reefs apart was the high amount of structure, creating habitat for sh. However, coral recruitment rates were low, with no large coral recruits reported, and their overall BRHI score was Impaired.Southern BahamasReefs in the Southern Bahamas ranked as Impaired for 4 of the 6 indicators, giving a BRHI score of Impaired. ey had low average densities of snappers and groupers and high frequencies of corals showing partial mortality. On the positive side, the reefs had large average coral sizes and high average densities for large parrotsh, but there was considerable variability among individual reefs. For example, 54% of the reefs were scored as Good for the Large Parrotsh Index and 39% as Poor. Although recruitment rates were high compared to most of e Bahamas, they were still considered to be Impaired.1Dahlgren, C., P.R. Kramer, J. Lang, & K, Sherman. 2014. New Providence and Rose Island, Bahamas 2014 Coral Reef Report Card. Available from Measuring coral size—large corals create habitat. Diver surveying a reef to determine Benthic Index. Coral being overgrown by cyanobacteria.19 18Reef Health SummaryBf R Hf InPoor Impaired Fair Good


C Tf Bf f CCaribbean Contexte main focus of this report card has been comparisons of key indicators of reef health within e Bahamas, but how do Bahamian reefs compare to those of its Caribbean neighbors? Here we compare a few components of reef health in e Bahamas to comparable surveys conducted throughout the Caribbean over the same time period.CoralsBahamian reefs and Caribbean reefs both averaged scores of Impaired on the Benthic Index, but Bahamian reefs had less live coral cover on average than reefs in other parts of the Caribbean across all reef zones. is may be due to greater impacts of thermal stress in e Bahamas than in other parts of the Caribbean. Coral recruitment rates were also Impaired on average for both e Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean.GrazersTwo major grazers of macroalgae were compared between Bahamian reefs and reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean. Long-spined sea urchins are the most eective grazers, but their densities remain fairly low throughout the region. Densities in e Bahamas averaged 4–10 times lower on patch reefs and fore reefs than in the Caribbean. Densities in the shallow reef crest zone were similar to other parts of the Caribbean, however, indicating that populations may be showing initial signs of recovery. In contrast, large parrotsh (> 30 cm total length) densities are 2–4 times greater in e Bahamas on average than in the rest of the Caribbean across all reef zones. While large parrotsh may not be as eective grazers as long-spined urchins, healthy populations in e Bahamas are critical for reducing macroalgae while urchin populations recover. Higher density in e Bahamas is likely due to less shing of these species here than elsewhere. However, the recent development of a parrotsh shery may threaten Bahamian populations. þD Crest Patch Fore Crest Patch Fore GrouperSmaller grouper (< 40 cm total length) had similar average densities for e Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean in the fore reef zone. Larger, adult-sized sh (> 40 cm), however, comprised nearly two thirds of groupers on Bahamian fore reefs, but they were essentially absent from Caribbean reefs. is is likely the result of overshing large groupers in much of the Caribbean, with some species like Nassau grouper shed out in many areas. While grouper populations are comparatively healthy in e Bahamas, recent ndings of declines in Nassau grouper densities, and the loss of some spawning aggregations, is of great concern. re Power of Protected AreasOne reason why e Bahamas compares favorably to the rest of the Caribbean for size and abundance of key sh species is e Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP), the oldest and one of the largest Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in e Bahamas. e ECLSP is eectively managed as a no-take area, leading to numerous benets to key species. Within the ECLSP, Nassau grouper abundance and biomass is 2 times greater than any other area in e Bahamas. Lobster and conch abundances in the ECLSP are also greater than other areas of e Bahamas, and there is evidence that healthy populations of these species there support sheries outside the MPA by replenishing these areas with larvae.1 Large parrotsh abundance and biomass in the ECLSP is also greater than surrounding parts of e Exuma Cays. While no AGRRA data on benthic communities and corals were collected for the ECLSP, other studies there provide insights into how the ECLSP benets coral reef ecosystems. Increased parrotsh biomass within the ECLSP doubled grazing intensity there and reduced macroalgae cover by 60%.2 is resulted in a two-fold increase in coral recruits in the ECLSP.3e example of the ECLSP shows how well-managed MPAs can protect key species, support sheries, and improve reef health. Many of the areas surveyed in this report card are within newly designated MPAs. Similar benets to key species, sheries, and reef health can be expected in all of these areas following the implementation of eective management of these new MPAs.1Reviewed in: Dahlgren, C. 2004. Bahamian Marine Reserves—Past experience and future plans. Pages 268-286 in Sobel, J. and C. Dahlgren (eds.). Marine Reserves: A Guide to Science, Design and Use. Island Press. 2Mumby, P. J., C.P. Dahlgren, A.R. Harborne, C.V. kappel, F. Micheli, D.R. Brumbaugh, K.E. Holmes, J.M. Mendes, K. Broad, J.N. Sanchirico, K. Science 311: 98-101.3Mumby, P.J., A.R. Harborne, J. Williams, C.V. Kappel, D.R. Brumbaugh, PNAS 104: 8362. þU þD Crest Patch Fore þD Crest Patch Fore þD > 40 31– 4021– 30 Healthy reefs have high cover of live coral. Long-spined urchin populations are slow to recover in e Bahamas. Dead elkhorn coral skeleton being overgrown by macroalgae.21 20


Tf Bf C RBahamian coral reefs have declined to their current condition because of local, regional, and global threats. Specic hazards may vary among locations, but most sites are faced with multiple threats. is section addresses some of the most serious threats facing Bahamian reefs.Climate ChangeClimate change is a global issue facing reefs worldwide. One of the greatest impacts of climate change on corals is an increase in the frequency, duration, and intensity of periods of elevated sea temperature. Warming can lead to mass mortality from bleaching or outbreaks of disease. ese impacts have already reduced coral cover on reefs throughout much of e Bahamas, as evident in Impaired Benthic Index and Coral Condition Index scores in most areas. Reduced coral populations and high cover of macroalgae also contribute to Impaired Coral Recruitment Index scores throughout e Bahamas. Shallow banks like Cay Sal Bank, which had the lowest scores for both the Benthic Index and Coral Recruitment Index, are among the most vulnerable areas for thermal stress, as they heat up rapidly during the summer. Key strategies for facilitating the ability of reefs to survive climate change include reducing carbon emissions and building reef resilience by minimizing the impacts of other stressors. Many of the strategies outlined in this section play an important part in reducing local threats to reefs and thereby should help to promote their recovery. Coastal Development Coastal development alters shorelines, increases sediments, nutrients or other pollution, and decreases the amount of nearshore habitat for key species like some parrotsh, groupers and snappers. is can have a strong local eect on reefs, reducing their scores for most, if not all, indicators. While most of the areas surveyed had minimal coastal impacts, unsustainable coastal development was evident around New Providence. For example, sites along the developed north and eastern parts of New Providence have Poor or Impaired scores for the Benthic Index, whereas reefs to the southwest of New Providence have Fair to Good scores.Illegal FishingFishing that is not sustainable can drive stocks to collapse, with severe economic and ecological consequences. Unsustainable shing includes illegal shing, such as shing during closed seasons, use of restricted shing gear, or minimum size violations. Commercial shing by foreigners is also illegal. Illegal shing threatens stocks of grouper, conch, and crawsh. e small size and low densities of groupers on Cay Sal Bank and the Southern Bahamas may reect illegal shing, given reports of high levels of foreign shing vessels in these areas. Reductions in Nassau grouper stocks in other parts of e Bahamas are likely the result of illegal shing during the closed season, with up to 1/3 of sh at spawning aggregations being captured illegally. Legal but Unsustainable FishingUnsustainable shing can also occur when regulations do not exist or do not eectively manage stocks. At present, shing for parrotsh is unregulated in e Bahamas, but studies show that shing for large parrotsh may cause their populations to decline, resulting in less coral recruitment. Low scores for the Large Parrotsh Index from the Little Bahama Bank, and the absence of large parrotsh from nearly 40% of sites in the Southern Bahamas, reect unsustainable shing as a target species or as bycatch. Dredging and other coastal development threaten corals. A parrotsh shery has developed in e Bahamas. Anchor damage and vessel groundings can have a local eect on reefs.23 22rreat Ratingsreats of Climate Change, Coastal Development, Illegal Fishing, and Legal but Unsustainable Fishing were rated for each area and given a color-coded threat rating of Low, Medium, High, or Very High. reat ratings were determined based on AGRRA data in this report card and a 2015 workshop where marine resource managers, NGO representatives, and scientists with working knowledge of specic areas rated threats based on specic criteria. reat ratings determined during the workshop took into account the scope of the threat or the percent of resources in the area to be aected, and severity of the threat or how the threat would contribute to degradation of resources over 10 years. Each threat was considered for key conservation targets related to the indicators in this report card, including reef-building corals, parrotsh, and groupers. Additional threats such as anchor damage or vessel groundings were also evaluated and may present signicant threats locally but were not among the top threats presented here. LBB þNN P/ þRR I þCACA Y S þAA L þANDROANDRO S S þOO U þTT HE þRNRN Low Medium High Very High þCC limate þCC hange þDD evelopment Legal but Illegal Photo þCC . Knapp, Shedd þAA quarium Causes of Reef DeclineIllegal shing of Nassau groupers in the closed spawning season can wipe out populations.


Rnn A25 24Marine Protected Areas increase sh populations and reef health.RecommendationsStrategies of Island Development Plans, Marine Protected Areas (MPA), Improved Fishery Management, and Ecosystem Rehabilitation/Species Recovery, were prioritized for each area and rated as Low, Medium, High, or Very High. Priority ratings were based on the current threats faced by each area and recent activities related to recommendations in each area. For example, MPAs have recently been designated in many study areas of this report card, but management plans have not been developed and implemented yet, earning these areas a High priority rating. e absence of MPAs for the vast majority of the Andros Barrier Reef and the lack of management plans for the two small existing MPAs earned a priority rating of Very High for Andros. Most of the recommended strategies are complementary and need to be applied throughout e Bahamas, not just in specic locations or limited to the areas discussed in this report card. Low Medium High Very High þDD evelopment Marine þRR ehabilitation/ Improved Management Despite the Impaired state of many reefs surveyed, and the ongoing threats to these reefs, we can take action to reverse the decline of Bahamian coral reefs. By implementing several key strategies we can put Bahamian reefs back on the path to being vibrant ecosystems, teaming with marine life and supporting the lives of Bahamians.Island Development PlansCoastal development is increasing around New Providence and other parts of e Bahamas. In areas where further development of the coastal zone is likely, impacts should be minimized by creating island development plans that identify critical nearshore areas and account for the ecosystem services provided by coral reefs and other marine habitats, such as supporting sheries and buering against storm surges. Such plans can guide coastal development to reduce its impact on coral reefs, particularly for Islands like Andros, the Southern Bahamas or less populated areas of southern Abaco and eastern Grand Bahama.Improved Fishery ManagementMore eective sheries management is needed to reverse the decline of many sh and mobile invertebrate species before their collapse, as they have done elsewhere in the Caribbean. To this end, building compliance with existing sheries regulations is a priority. is should include better communication of the reason for the regulations to shers, seafood buyers, and the general public to build compliance with regulations. It must also include stronger enforcement of regulations throughout the country for Bahamians (e.g., enforcing legal size limits and closed seasons) and the elimination of illegal foreign shing, particularly in remote areas of the Southern Bahamas and Cay Sal Bank. For some species, improved management also requires an updating of regulations based on current science to better manage stocks of key species throughout e Bahamas. For other species, no regulations exist, and restrictions on the shery are needed to protect stocks. For example, minimum sizes and protection of sh at spawning times will improve sustainability of shery for many species (e.g., snappers). Establishing a ban on parrotsh shing is also needed before this shery develops further, to preserve species that are critical to coral reef health.Implementing Network of Protected AreasAnother strategy to reduce unsustainable shing and coastal development is the use of protected areas. It is no accident that sh surveys throughout e Bahamas show the healthiest populations in e Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP), a large Marine Protected Area (MPA). MPAs like ECLSP provide critical protec tion to key species that support coral reef health. e success of the ECLSP can be attributed to its size, diversity of habitats included within its boundaries, and the fact that it has been eectively managed as a no-take area for 30 years. e surveys in this report contributed to the declaration of MPAs in Cay Sal Bank, Southwest New Providence, the Joulter Cays, Cross Harbour Abaco, East Grand Bahama, and an expansion of Lucaya National Park. Designation of MPAs in these areas is not enough, however: eective management plans need to be developed in each of these areas with both scientic and stakeholder input, followed by the implementation of eective management. Furthermore, MPAs function most eectively if they are networked together in such a way that they can contribute propagules, like coral larvae, to replenish each other and the waters around them. e Bahamas is a little over half way towards its goal of protecting 20% of its nearshore areas by 2020. e creation of new MPAs that are linked by ocean currents, contain habitats used by key species and are sized based on the movements of these species will promote reef health, conserve biodiversity and support sheries.Rehabilitation: Facilitating Recovery of Species and EcosystemsIn some cases where key species or ecosystems are impaired because of past threats and recruitment is low, recovery may need some additional help. A reef, mangrove or seagrass bed that has been altered by human impacts may be rehabilitated by removing ongoing threats and reintroducing key components of the ecosystem. For species whose populations have collapsed, like some corals or long-spined urchins, with little to no recruitment evident, such assistance may speed up recovery. For example, in-water propagation is possible for elkhorn and staghorn corals, which may be reintroduced to reefs where natural recruitment rates are low. New advances in genetics may also allow for selection of colonies best adapted or able to acclimate to climate change and other threats to improve long-term survival. Further research is also needed to facilitate recovery of long-spined urchins and other coral species. Staghorn coral grown in nurseries can help repopulate reefs. Reversing the Decline LBB þNN P/ þRR I þCACA Y S þAA L þANDROANDRO S S þOO U þTT HE þRNRN


Data Collection and Report Card DevelopmentCraig Dahlgren, Patricia Richards Kramer, Judith Lang, Ken Marks, Krista Sherman, and Lindy Knowles.Data CollectionAaron Adams, Lakeshia Anderson, Sonia Bejarano, Alexio Brown, Krista Brown, Indira Brown, Andrew Bruckner, Felicity Burrows, Vonetta Burrows, Ancilleno Davis, Vallierre K. W. Deleveaux, Alexandra Dempsey, Rob Gardiner, Brooke Gintert, David Green, Dave Grenda, Alexander Henderson, Brian Higgs, Brandon Jennings, Jeremy Kerr, Alexia Knowles, John Knowles, Philip Kramer, Craig Layman, Nadia Lockhart, Agnessa Lundy, Peter Mumby, Sam Purkis, Philip Renaud, Bernhard Riegl, Steven Schill, Joyce Shulke, William Sturrup, Roberto omas, Tavares ompson, Alannah Velacott, Sandy Voegeli, Amanda Williams, and Nicholas Wol. Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) Graphic Design: Dawn Witherington. Photos Craig Dalgren unless noted.Citation Dahlgren, C., K. Sherman, J. Lang, P.R. Kramer, & K. Marks. 2016. Bahamas Coral Reef Report Card Volume 1: 2011–2013. For more information: Craig Dahlgren, or www.blueprojectatlantis.orgSupport Provided by C: