ArticlePDF Available

Status of coral reefs in Brazil

  • Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil


Content may be subject to copyright.
The Status of Coral Reefs in Brazil
Beatrice Padovani FERREIRA1; Mauro MAIDA1; Clóvis B.CASTRO2; Débora O. PIRES2; Tâmara M.
D'AMICO1; Ana P.L. PRATES3 and Danilo MARX4.
1Department of Oceanography, Federal University of Pernambuco, 29060-900, Recife, PE, Brazil.
2National Museum, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, 20940-040, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.
3Secretary of Biodiversity and Forests, Ministry of Environment, 70.068-900, Brasília, DF, Brazil.
4Projeto Recifes Costeiros, Cepene-Ibama, Tamandaré, PE, Brazil.
1 Corresponding author: B. P. FERREIRA.
FAX +55 81 21268225,
Abstract Coral reefs in Brazil are distributed along
3,000 km of the Brazilian Northeastern coast, and
represent the only coral reef ecosystem in the South
Atlantic. In 2002, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment
funded a pilot project to assess the status of conservation
of Brazilian reefs using the global methods of Reef
Check. Six representative regions of Brazilian reefs,
between latitudes 3° and 18°S, were chosen for the
assessment, including four coastal areas, one oceanic
island and one atoll. The selected reefs were located
inside the boundaries of marine protected areas of the
two main types established in Brazil: fully protected and
sustainable use, where extraction is allowed. Intensity of
use in this last category was variable, largely depending
on local conditions such as human population densities
and management regimes. From March 2002 to April
2003, Reef Check surveys were conducted in several
sites within this regions. A geographic information
system was built using LANDSAT imagery. Reef Check
methods were adapted to fit local requirements while
permitting collection of the same basic data. Hard coral
cover varied between 5 to 35%. Higher cover was found
at Abrolhos reefs. Specific hard coral composition varied
between regions, with lower diversity of corals registered
at northern reefs. Indicator species of fish, including
Lutjanids, Scarids, Serranids and ornamental species
were significantly less abundant in areas were fishing and
collecting were allowed. The same pattern was observed
for commercially exploited species of lobster and
octopus. Larger species of groupers were generally
absent of all areas with very few exceptions. In the
summer of 2003 a synchronized bleaching event was
recorded. This is the first large scale event registered and
shows the importance of large scale monitoring in Brazil.
Key-words Brazil, Coral Reef Monitoring, MPAs, Reef
Coral reefs in Brazil are distributed along 3,000 km of
the Brazilian Northeastern coast, and represent the only
coral reef ecosystem in the South Atlantic. Brazilian
shallow coral reefs contain 20 species of scleractinian
corals, with 15 hermatypic zooxanthellate species and 5
azooxanthellate ahermatypic species (Castro and Pires,
2001, unpublished data). Five of the 15 hermatypic
species are endemic to Brazilian waters. Of those, one
species has an even more restricted distribution, only
occurring on the reefs of Bahia State. The endemism is
extended at the genus level, and includes relict forms
only remotely related to recent Caribbean species
(Laborel,1970; Leão, 1983). The reef fish fauna, by
contrast, is characterized by a high endemism of about 18
to 20% (Floeter and Gasparini, 2000) but differences
between the Caribbean and the Brazilian provinces are at
the species or subspecies level, with no genus restricted
to the south-western Atlantic (Joyeux et al. 2001).
The reefs are mostly coastal and local populations
depend largely on reef resources. In the northeast, over
18 million people live along the coast, one of the most
densely occupied regions in the country (Moraes, 1999).
Overall, the human related activities that affect the
Brazilian reefs are the same that threaten most coral reefs
around the world, such as land use practices that increase
sedimentation, domestic and agricultural pollution,
overexploitation of reef resources, and uncontrolled
tourism (Maida and Ferreira 1997). Artisanal fisheries
are a very important activity, both socially, economically
and culturally, and also one of the bigger impacts. The
tourism industry is growing every year, with numerous
development projects for the region under way,
representing in this scenario both a threat and an
In 2002, with a grant from the Ministry of
Environment, we started a pilot project with the objective
of gathering information for the establishment of a
National Monitoring Programme in Brazil. The Reef
Check methodology was selected for the assessments
because of its volunteer, community-based nature, which
allows for the involvement and participation of
government staff, dive operators and NGOs. The idea
Return to title
Proceedings of 10th International Coral Reef Symposium, 1011-1015 (2006)
was to test the Reef Check methodology for applicability
and acceptance, to get an overall picture of the status of
the reefs and to establish a national programme tailored
to allow broad participation in order to achieve both
monitoring and educational purposes. We here present
our first results.
Material and Methods
Four reef formations were selected in representative
locations distributed along the area of occurrence of coral
reefs (Figure 1). The criteria we used for selection was
representativeness under the broad distribution of reefs in
Brazil, feasibility of access under good conditions,
location inside the boundaries of marine protected areas
and the presence of tourism. Marine Protected Areas
were of the two main types established in Brazil: fully
protected; and sustainable use, where extraction is
allowed (including fisheries). The advantage of being
inside a MPA was the existence of a management regime
and government personnel that could be trained and
involved in the monitoring.
Figure 1: Map showing the distribution of reefs in Brazil
and the areas selected for the monitoring
The Maracajaú reef formation, located in the northern
Touros-Natal area, and the Coral Coast MPA reef
formation, located in the Pirangi-Maceió area are
multiple use MPAs, while Fernando de Noronha, an
Archipelago in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Abrolhos
formation, located in the south, are Marine Parks, where
only tourism and scientific activities are allowed. During
the expeditions, we had the chance to survey another two
areas, Corumbau Extrativist Reserve in South Bahia and
Atol das Rocas Biological Reserve in the north.
Most selected reefs are popular tourist destinations,
with the exception of Atol das Rocas where only research
activities are allowed and Corumbau, due to remote
From March 2002 to April 2003 Reef Check surveys
were conducted along 192 transects, distributed in
several areas and sites within these regions. In each area,
survey sites were selected after discussion with local
researchers and rangers. A geographic information
system was build using LANDSAT imagery.
Reef Check methods were adapted so to fit local
requirements while permitting collection of the same
basic data. New categories of indicators were added to
the standard, pre-existing Reef Check categories:
-for fishes: the nassau grouper, that does not occur in the
South Atlantic, was replaced by the goliath grouper
Epinephelus itajara, the first marine fish species to be
declared as threatened and to be fully protected in Brazil.
Ornamental fish was added as a category, including
several species depending on the region.
-for invertebrates: other two species of sea urchins were
added (Echinometra lucunter and Tripneustes sp.) and
their abundance estimated in numbers per transect or in
numbers per square meter
-for substrate, calcareous algae were included as a
category, as they are considered an important reef builder
in Brazil (Kikuchi e Leão, 1997; Figueiredo, 1997). In
addition, coral species were recorded individually and
not as a single group.
Data were analyzed using simple parametric and non-
parametric tests to compare abundance of organism
between regions. Significance levels were set at p<0.05.
Results and Discussion
Coral Cover
Hard coral cover varied between 5 to 35%. Higher
cover was found at Parcel dos Abrolhos (PA). High
cover was also registered in some restricted sites in
Fernando de Noronha (FN) (Figure 2). Specific hard
coral composition varied between regions, with lower
diversity of corals registered at northern reefs. In Parcel
dos Abrolhos, where a higher diversity of coral species
was observed, no single species was found to be
dominant, while in archipelago dos Abrolhos (AA) the
dominant species was the endemic Mussismilia
brasiliensis. In Fernando de Noronha, where surveys
were conducted at depth contours of 12 meters,
Montastraea cavernosa was the dominant species,
present in 75% of the observations. Pires et al (1992)
also reported a high cover of M. cavernosa in the area.
Many large dead colonies were observed during our
survey, that indicates a possible coral cover decrease in
the last years; also suggested by Castro and Pires (2001).
In the APA Costa dos Corais, Montastraea cavernosa
was dominant in the deeper contours surveyed in
Return to title
Tamandaré (TA), while Millepora alcicornis was
dominant in the shallows of Maragogi (MJ). In the north
area, the dominant species was Siderastrea stellata both
in Maracajaú (MA) and Atol das Rocas (AR), with more
than 90% of occurrence in both cases.
These results were compared to previous works when
available. For the parcel dos Abrolhos region (PA) Segal
(2003) sampled 3 sites, with 5 intercept line transects
with 250 points per station. Their estimated coral cover
of scleractinians and milleporids (=RC hard coral) was of
31.91%, very close to the present results of 32.8%
(Figure 2).
Figure 2: Mean percent coral cover estimated by the
percentage of occurrence of the category hard coral in
each 40 point line transect. AR-Atol das Rocas; FN-
Fernando de Noronha; MJ- Maracajaú; TA- Tamandaré;
MA- Maragogi; IT- Itacolomis; PP- Parcel das Paredes;
AA- Arquipélago dos Abrolhos; PA- Parcel dos
Abrolhos.Fishes and Invertebrates
Indicator species of fish, including lutjanids, scarids,
serranids and ornamental species were significantly less
abundant in the sustainable use MPAs, were fishing and
collecting were allowed (Figure 3).
Larger species of groupers were generally absent of all
areas with very few exceptions. In Fernando de
Noronha, the area where individual groupers larger than
30 cm of total length were more abundant, the category
was mainly represented by the coney Cephalopholis
fulva, a small grouper with maximum length is less than
40 cm. The rarity of larger groupers there and in most
places, indicates that the threat level for these large
predators is very high, as pointed out by Myers and
Worm (2002) and Coleman et al. (2000). The goliath
grouper was only observed in Atol das Rocas and in a 3
sq km no take zone within the APA Costa dos Corais,
both places where only research is allowed. In some
places, the absence of large groupers can indicate that the
protection measures have not been sufficient to maintain
populations. In Noronha for instance, fishing is banned
only from the coast to the 50 meter isobath, what is
probably not compatible with the mobility range of larger
individuals, frequently caught outside these boundaries.
For the snappers, higher abundances were observed in
the Parcel dos Abrolhos, mainly represented by Lutjanus
chrysurus, a very important fishing resource in the state
of Bahia. Abrolhos is probably a very important refuge
for these species, since as well as the high abundance,
individuals we observed at all sizes, from large adults to
newly settled recruits taking refuge in the branches of the
fire coral Millepora alcicornis. The high abundance of
M. alcicornis in the area makes Parcel dos Abrolhos an
even more important settlement area for L. chrysurus.
For the other areas, the more abundant species was the
dog snapper Lutjanus jocu.
Parrotfishes were also more abundant inside no-take
areas. Until recently, these fishes were only exploited by
artisanal fisheries. Now, however, the group as well as
acanthurids, has become an important target, with the
start of exportation of deep frozen fish caught by large
nets and traps around reef areas. A change in the
abundance numbers registered in our survey may be
expected in the future.
Haemulids, by contrast, were significantly more
abundant outside no-fishing zones. Because of this
result, the category, mostly represented in the survey by
large schools of juveniles of the genus Haemulon, will
now be recorded in two categories according to genera
(Haemulon or Anisotremus) and size (< and>20cm).
The abundance of ornamental fish varied according to
longitudinal and latitudinal patterns of distribution, and
therefore was not overall significant. Species registered
were Gramma braziliensis, Holocanthus ciliares,
Holocanthus tricolor, Elacathinus figaro, Pomacanthus
paru, Bodianus rufus and Microspathodon chrysurus.
Figure 3: Mean number of indicator species of fish per
transect in areas with and without fishing. Significance
at p<0.05 is indicated by an* (KS).
As for the invertebrates, lobsters and octopus are
intensely fished in Brazil, and were also significantly
more abundant in the no fishing areas, as well as crabs
and shellfish, generally caught in the same reef fishery.
Echinometra lucunter occurred in very high numbers in
some coastal reefs, independently of protection status,
and were not represented in Figure 4.
The abundance of the other organisms, specially the
species collected as curios or for the ornamental trade,
was also driven by longitudinal and latitudinal patterns of
distribution. The giant anemone Condylactis giganteus
was abundant only in the Parcel dos Abrolhos area,
Return to title
where up to four individuals were counted in a single
Figure 4: Mean number of harvested invertebrates in
areas with and without fishing. Significance at p<0.05 is
indicated by an* (KS).
In the summer of 2003, a synchronized event of
bleaching was registered during our surveys in
Maracajaú, Rocas atoll and in Tamandaré and Maragogi
in the Coral Coast MPA. Bleaching was also reported by
one of the authors in Abrolhos region. This event was of
smaller proportion in terms of percentage of bleached
colonies than the event in 1998, but quite significant in
comparison with the proportion of colonies registered the
previous year. This was the first large scale event
registered simultaneously in Brazil and shows the
importance of large scale monitoring.
Figure 5: Mean percentage of partially bleached colonies
along transects in sites surveyed in 2002 and 2003.
The selected regions included sites with high percentages
of coral cover, comparable to those observed in other
Atlantic regions (Hodgson and Liebeler, 2002), as well as
sites with very low coral cover. According to Jacques
Laborel (pers. comm.) the coral formations in Brazil
were already very poor in the 1960s, being never higher
than 50% maximum and around 25% in average. Laborel
has recently revisited some sites he surveyed 40 years
ago, along the coast of Pernambuco state, and reported a
perceived reduction in the abundance of corals, that
seems to be the pattern for other regions around the
world (Gardner et al. 2003).
The method was efficient in revealing important
patterns for Brazilian coral reefs. In relation to fishes
and invertebrate species, fishing was the main variable
driving the abundance of indicator species on Brazilian
Due to the country dimensions, the Reef Check
methodology seems to be ideal to serve as the base over
which more detailed survey techniques can be
incorporated to investigate specific questions.
As well as the authors, more than 32 volunteers
participated in the surveys conducted during the present
work, which also had the support of diving operators and
local park rangers. New teams have been formed since,
and the monitoring program has generated an enormous
interest from divers, students, fishers and other potential
volunteers. A first training program which took place in
Itaparica island, Bahia, attracted the interest of over 15
volunteers, and resulted in several police actions to stop
fishing with explosives, a local long lasting problem.
Even without a direct PR effort, the work has been the
object of several articles in Brazilian magazines and
newspapers. The Ministry of Environment has presently
approved a proposal for continuation of these work, and
the establishment of a permanent monitoring network.
Funds were provided by the Biodiversity Project –
PROBIO- of the Biodiversity Secretariat of the Ministry
of Environment and The Brazilian Resarch Council
CNPq to FADE (Research Support Foundation of the
University of Pernambuco). We thank J. Laborel for
sharing his knowledge with us and to all the volunteers
that participated and made this work possible. Thanks to
Gil Strenzel and Thales M. Ushizima who provided great
assistance with the database and maps. We also thank
the support of the Projeto Recifes Costeiros, IRCOS,
CEPENE/IBAMA, PROMAR and the dive operators
Aratur, Atlantis Divers and Maracajau Divers. The
participation and assistance of IBAMA personnel was
invaluable. We thank the support from G Hodgson and
his LA based Reef Check team and of QuikSilver
Australia that made possible our second trip to Noronha
and the first survey in Atol das Rocas aboard the Indies
Castro CB, Pires, DO. (2001). Brazilian coral reefs: what
we already know and what is still missing. Bulletin
of Marine Science 69: 357-371.
Coleman FC., Koenig CC., Huntsman GA., Musick JA.,
Eklund AM., McGovern JC., Chapman RW.,
Sedberry GR., Grimes CB., (2000). Long-lived Reef
Fishes: The Grouper Snapper Complex.
Figueiredo MAO. (1997). Colonization and growth of
crustose coralline algae in Abrolhos, Brazil. Proc. 8th
Int Coral Reef Symp, Panama, 1: 689-694.
Gardner T.A., Cote IM, Gill JA, Grant A. and Watkinson
AR (2003a). Long-term region-wide declines in
Caribbean corals. Science 301: 958-960.
Joyeux, JC, Floeter SR., Ferreira, CE. L.and JL
Return to title
Gasparini. (2001) Biogeography of tropical reef
Fishes: the South Atlantic puzzle. Journal of
Biogeography, 28: 831-841.
Laborel, J (1969) Les peuplements de Madréporaries des
côtes tropicales du Brésil. Ann. Univ. d'Abidjan,
Serie E (Ecologie) II, 3. 260 pp. (in french).
Leão, ZMN (1983) Abrolhos: o refúgio pleioscênico de
uma fauna de coral. Ciências da Terra. 8: 22-24..
Moraes ACR. (1999) Contribuições para a gestão da
zona costeira do Brasil: elementos para uma
geografia do litoral brasileiro. Hucitec, Edusp, São
Paulo. 229pp.
Myers RA. and Worm B (2003) Rapid worldwide
depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature.
423: 280-283.
Hodgson G and Liebeler J (2002) The Global Coral Reef
– 5 Years of Reef Check.
Maida M. and Ferreira BP (1997). Coral Reefs of
Brazil: Overview e field guide. Proc. 8th Int Coral
Reef Sym 1:263-274.
Myers RA and Worm B. (2003) Rapid worldwide
depletion of predatory fish communities. NATURE,
vol. 423, 280-283.
Segal B (2003). Corais e comunidades recifais e sua
relação com a sedimentação no Banco dos Abrolhos,
Brasil. Tese de doutorado, Museu Nacional da
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, pp. 33.
Return to title
... For centuries, populations from many tropical islands worldwide and from certain Brazilian coastal areas have depended on the coral reef resources for their sustenance and livelihoods. (SALVAT, 1992;RÖNNBÄCK, 2003;FERREIRA et al., 2006). ...
... These reefs are spread over 3,000 km along the Brazilian coast, from 0º50'S to 18º00'S, and they can be generally divided into the following four main reef regions: the northern region, the reefs of the northeastern coast, the reefs of the eastern coast and the reef ecosystems of the oceanic islands FERREIRA et al., 2013); however, certain coral species are also found on the southeastern and southern coasts of Brazil (CASTRO et al., 1995;MIGOTTO et al., 1999;CREED, 2004CREED, , 2006 (Figure 1). These reefs are composed of shallow bank reefs attached to the coast, fringing reefs bordering island shores, coral knolls, patch reefs, isolated bank reefs of different forms and sizes off the coast, and coral pinnacles known as the Brazilian "chapeirões" FERREIRA et al., 2006;RODRIGUEZ-RAMIREZ et al., 2008;KIKUCHI et al., 2010). ...
... Although not yet cored, the spatial arrangement and elongation of these reefs suggest that most of them may have grown over lines of beach rock (LABOREL, 1969;DOMINGUEZ et al., 1990;TESTA, 1997;FERREIRA 2003;COSTA et al. 2005;FERREIRA et al. 2006;SOVIERZOSKI, 2010;CORREIA, 2011) (Figures 2 and 3). The eastern region (from approximately 10ºS to 18ºS) extends between the São Francisco and the Doce Rivers over 1,000 km along the coasts of the states of Sergipe and Bahia. ...
Full-text available
Brazilian coral reefs form structures significantly different from the well-known reef models, as follows: (i) they have a growth form of mushroom-shaped coral pinnacles called “chapeirões”, (ii) they are built by a low diversity coral fauna rich in endemic species, most of them relic forms dating back to the Tertiary, and (iii) the nearshore bank reefs are surrounded by siliciclastic sediments. The reefs are distributed in the following four major sectors along the Brazilian coast: the northern, the northeastern and the eastern regions, and the oceanic islands, but certain isolated coral species can be found in warmer waters in embayments of the southern region. There are different types of bank reefs, fringing reefs, isolated “chapeirões” and an atoll present along the Brazilian coast. Corals, milleporids and coralline algae build the rigid frame of the reefs. The areas in which the major coral reefs occur correspond to regions in which nearby urban centers are experiencing accelerated growth, and tourism development is rapidly increasing. The major human effects on the reef ecosystem are mostly associated with the increased sedimentation due to the removal of the Atlantic rainforest and the discharge of industrial and urban effluents. The effects of the warming of oceanic waters that had previously affected several reef areas with high intensity coral bleaching had not shown, by the time of the 2010 event, any episodes of mass coral mortality on Brazilian reefs.
... The region has undergone intense deforestation for agricultural purposes (Ferreira et al., 2006a). Therefore, the rivers in the region carry significant sediment loads to the coast during the wet season, which leads to high turbidity levels (Maida and Ferreira, 1997). ...
... However, the city's population increases to N60,000 habitants during the dry season due to tourism, resulting in higher amounts of solid waste in the embayment when compared with Tamandaré's two other city beaches (Araújo and Costa, 2007). Pollution, mainly solid waste discharge, and overfishing (Araújo and Costa, 2007) are potentially responsible for Tamandaré exhibiting one of the smallest coverages of coral along the Brazilian coast, as evaluated by the "Reef Check" project (Ferreira et al., 2006a). ...
... Effective environmental protection policies are necessary to ensure that this embayment will continue to contribute to society for generations to come. Human dependence on this environment is significant, and conservation policies must be designed for its sustainable use (Ferreira et al., 2006a). For either long-or short-term monitoring programs that aim to assess benthic environmental health and to support coral reefs, foraminifera are among the highest priority-ranking bioindicators (Cooper et al., 2009;Fabricius et al., 2012), allowing baseline establishment. ...
... The local islanders have historically collected coral colonies, especially around the northern and western sides of the island (i.e., SBB and HBB) to supply to tourist gift shops (Yang et al., 1975). Another key factor in the hard coral decline is over-harvesting of herbivorous fish and invertebrates (Dai, 2010). In a top-down controlled ecosystem (Hughes, 1987;Bellwood et al., 2004), without these herbivorous fishes and invertebrates to remove fast-growing algae on the reefs, the algae can dominate; this increase in algal biomass can then limit the growth of existing corals and inhibit coral larvae settlement (Sammarco, 1980;Wilkinson, 2008). ...
... Increased eutrophication and sedimentation might be another reason for the reefs' decline. Hsiaoliuchiu lacks a sewage treatment system, and wastewater from both the locals and tourists is discharged directly into coastal waters (Dai, 2010). Recently, tourism has increased on the island, and more than 1 million people are visiting the island every year at current estimates; as only 12,000 people currently live on Hsiaoliuchiu, new hotels and other buildings will likely be required to accommodate this rising influx of tourists. ...
Hsiaoliuchiu, a coral reef island located off southern Taiwan, was characterized by high coral cover in the 1970s but shifted from a coral- to an algal-dominated system 20 years ago. That being said, there is little information on the ecology of the coral reefs around Hsiaoliuchiu, nor do we know what drove this dramatic decline in live coral cover. In this study, comprehensive benthic community surveys were carried out at 36 sites around Hsiaoliuchiu between 2010 and 2012, and four of these sites were surveyed in greater detail to understand depth-related differences in benthic structure (to 30 m). Turf algae dominated the benthic communities at most sites around the island (% cover ranging from 35 to 81%). However, at Houshi fringing reef, which was located at the southeastern side of the island, hard coral cover was still 23.8 to 54.2%. At this site, encrusting Montipora spp. colonies dominated the shallows, while plating and massive corals were most common on the deeper reefs. Also, at Houshi fringing reef, coral cover increased with depth, while cover of macroalgae and turf algae were relatively rarer in deeper waters. Based on these data, we recommend that Houshi fringing reef be legally designated as a marine protected area in order to conserve these remaining coral communities of Hsiaoliuchiu.
... Second, the composition of fish traits in coral reefs is heterogenous across the globe (Stuart-Smith et al. 2013). For example, while almost 90% of the fish caught by Kenyan fishing gears are benthic, there likely is a more diverse composition of coral reef fish traits in the Atlantic Ocean where reefs often have low coral cover that favors pelagic fishes (Ferreira et al. 2006). Third, fish species and trait composition can vary across habitats (Jennings and Lock 1996). ...
Full-text available
Small-scale reef fisheries are important commercial and subsistence activities that support the livelihoods of millions of people in tropical regions. Tropical marine fisheries typically target a diversity of species caught with a matching diversity of fishing gears and practices. Here, we explored how multiple fishing gears select for distinct functional traits of fish assemblages inside a large multiple use marine environmental protected area off northeastern Brazil. In 1833 landing interviews with local fishers, we identified 101 species, which were categorized according to six traits: body size, schooling behavior, mobility, position in the water column, diet and period of activity. Our research is the first to explore the broad patterns of gear selectivity with regards to fish functional traits for different habitat types. While gears used in reef habitats were highly selective of sedentary and benthic species that form schools with few individuals, gears used in coastal lagoons were selective of highly mobile pelagic species that form large schools. We found a low competitive interaction between different gear types, meaning there was a low overlap in trait selectivity between fishing gears. We also found direct associations between gears and fish functional traits: hooks and line targeted species that exhibit limited mobility capabilities, making these species more vulnerable to local levels of fishing effort. In contrast, nets and fish corrals targeted mobile species that exhibited a greater diversity of functional traits. Some of our results contrasted with the current literature on the topic, with differences highlighting the need for more research to clarify global patterns of trait selectivity by gear type. Our results have implications for fisheries management in northeastern Brazil: gear bans and effort caps are commonly used management measures that can foster fisheries sustainability by minimizing impacts to fish assemblage functions.
... Although 2019 was a non-El Niño year, the most severe bleaching event to date at the Southwestern Atlantic was recorded at that time, with high bleaching but low coral mortality (Banha et al. 2019, Duarte et al. 2020, Mies et al. 2020), similar to Rocas Atoll. The bleaching history at Rocas Atoll coincides with the ENSO years, such as the 2003 event that caused bleaching in less than 4% of the colonies studied by Ferreira et al. 2006, while during ENSO 2010, less than 20% of the colonies bleached, but up to 60% showed signs of disease (Ferreira et al. 2013). ...
Full-text available
Threatened by global warming and extreme climatic events, such as El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Marine Heatwaves (MHW), coral reefs worldwide faced the worst bleaching and mortality event between 2014 and 2017, induced by the 2015/2016 ENSO. We evaluated the impacts of ENSO and MHW episodes on bleaching and mortality frequencies of Siderastrea stellata at Rocas Atoll, Southwestern Atlantic, using visual censuses conducted in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Bleaching rate varied significantly along the sampling period (11.71% in 2016, 1.52% in 2017, and 88% in 2019), but mortality was always less than 4%. Bleaching events in Atlantic reefs have been constantly associated with ENSO, until these recent events of the last two years. We suggest that MHW were probably the primary driver of the observed bleaching, especially in 2019, when much higher bleaching rates were observed than in ENSO periods. Although Southwestern Atlantic massive corals are considered more resistant to thermal stress than reefs corals worldwide, the strong events registered since 2019 highlight the need for continuous monitoring to better understand coral bleaching dynamics and improve predictions on the effects of global change in the region.
Full-text available
Reefs are the richest marine ecosystems. Their benthic communities generate structural complexity and participate in nutrient cycles, providing habitat and food for many marine species. These ecosystems have been threatened by local and global anthropogenic impacts and changes in community structure have led to loss of biodiversity, ecosystem function and services worldwide. Most studies about these structural changes have been conducted in Caribbean and Indo-Pacific coral reefs. In the Southwestern Atlantic, where reefs are naturally algae-dominated, these efforts are incipient, especially at oceanic islands where local anthropic impacts tend to be lower, and natural and climate-induced fluctuations might be easily detected. We conducted the first temporal assessment of benthic communities and the influence of oceanographic parameters between 2013 and 2019 in Fernando de Noronha (FNA), the largest Brazilian oceanic archipelago. We annually sampled benthic communities in FNA’s shallow reefs (2–21 m) using photoquadrats, quantified and gathered organisms in major groups according to their functional roles. We also characterized and tested “sea surface temperature,” “marine heatwaves,” “diffuse attenuation coefficient,” and “wave energy” influence for the same period. The most abundant groups were epilithic algal matrix (EAM; mean annual coverage: 23–60%), macroalgae (15–35%) and calcifiers (15–29%), followed by cyanobacteria (1–37%), suspension/filter-feeders (<2%), zoanthids (<1%) and other invertebrates (<0.1%). EAM was negatively correlated with “marine heatwaves” and positively correlated with “wave energy,” while macroalgae and calcifiers showed opposite responses to “marine heatwaves” and “wave energy,” respectively. Cyanobacteria was positively correlated with “marine heatwaves.” The dominance of EAM and macroalgae was already described for reefs along the Brazilian Province and we demonstrated the persistence of this structure over the years in FNA, with the exception of 2019 when there was a substantial increase of cyanobacteria after a strong marine heatwave. Our results suggest a flickering dynamic between EAM and macroalgae, which vary according to the oceanographic conditions, reinforcing its distinct dynamics from most tropical coral reefs. However, the increase of cyanobacteria added to projections of more frequent and stronger marine heatwaves worldwide indicate possible structural changes in this community. Continued monitoring of community and oceanographic drivers is key for better understanding and predicting changes in important marginal reefs.
We investigated possible synergic effects on coral reefs of the local land reclamation activities in the Himmafushi Island (North Malè atoll, Maldives) and the global bleaching event that affected the Maldives in 2016. A BACI (Before-After Control-Impact) sampling design was adopted to contrast effects of dredging activities before and after the occurrence of both dredging and bleaching. The Reef Check protocol, a standardised and worldwide survey method, was applied to collect data through underwater visual surveys on corals, macro-zoobenthos, and fish communities. The bleaching in 2016 hit all the reefs investigated, but only in the reefs around Himmafushi (i.e., the impact sites) the live hard coral reduced significantly its cover and the sand deposited on reefs showed a fourfold increase. Substrate indicators (i.e., coral community and abiotic components) turned out to be more effective than macro-zoobenthos and fish in this short-term environmental impact study.
Full-text available
Coral reefs are experiencing increasing anthropogenic impacts that result in substantial declines of reef-building corals and a change of community structure towards other benthic invertebrates or macroalgae. Reefs around Zanzibar are exposed to untreated sewage and runoff from the main city Stonetown. At many of these sites, sponge cover has increased over the last years. Sponges are one of the top spatial competitors on reefs worldwide. Their success is, in part, dependent on their strong chemical defenses against predators, microbial attacks and other sessile benthic competitors. This is the first study that investigates the bioactive properties of sponge species in the Western Indian Ocean region. Crude extracts of the ten most dominant sponge species were assessed for their chemical defenses against 35 bacterial strains (nine known as marine pathogens) using disc diffusion assays and general cytotoxic activities were assessed with brine shrimp lethality assays. The three chemically most active sponge species were additionally tested for their allelopathic properties against the scleractinian coral competitor Porites sp.. The antimicrobial assays revealed that all tested sponge extracts had strong antimicrobial properties and that the majority (80%) of the tested sponges were equally defended against pathogenic and environmental bacterial strains. Additionally, seven out of ten sponge species exhibited cytotoxic activities in the brine shrimp assay. Moreover, we could also show that the three most bioactive sponge species were able to decrease the photosynthetic performance of the coral symbionts and thus were likely to impair the coral physiology.
Full-text available
Coral bleaching continues to be one of the most devastating and immediate impacts of climate change on coral reef ecosystems worldwide. In 2015, a major bleaching event was declared as the “3rd global coral bleaching event” by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, impacting a large number of reefs in every major ocean. The Red Sea was no exception, and we present herein in situ observations of the status of coral reefs in the central Saudi Arabian Red Sea from September 2015, following extended periods of high temperatures reaching upwards of 32.5°C in our study area. We examined eleven reefs using line-intercept transects at three different depths, including all reefs that were surveyed during a previous bleaching event in 2010. Bleaching was most prevalent on inshore reefs (55.6% ± 14.6% of live coral cover exhibited bleaching) and on shallower transects (41% ± 10.2% of live corals surveyed at 5m depth) within reefs. Similar taxonomic groups (e.g., Agariciidae) were affected in 2015 and in 2010. Most interestingly, Acropora and Porites had similar bleaching rates (~30% each) and similar relative coral cover (~7% each) across all reefs in 2015. Coral genera with the highest levels of bleaching (>60%) were also among the rarest (<1% of coral cover) in 2015. While this bodes well for the relative retention of coral cover, it may ultimately lead to decreased species richness, often considered an important component of a healthy coral reef. The resultant long-term changes in these coral reef communities remain to be seen.
Technical Report
Full-text available
Coral reefs are among the most globally important marine ecosystems, having immense economic and ecological values and supplying fisheries and other essential resources to millions of people. The key problem is that coral reefs are facing intensifying anthropogenic impacts, and the crucial reef-building coral populations that provide the foundation of reefs are declining in most tropical reef regions including the Philippines. Restoring coral populations is therefore essential for reef recovery, but has not been successful at the larger reefal scales needed to restore essential goods and services. Therefore, the aim of this project was to quantify the effectiveness of using mass larval ‘reseeding’ to initiate restoration of damaged coral communities on reefs in the northern Philippines. The specific objectives were to: 1. Determine peak coral spawning periods, capture coral spawn and rear millions of coral larvae, 2. Reseed damaged reef areas via mass larval settlement, 3. Quantify larval settlement and recruitment, 4. Quantify juvenile coral growth and survival to assess the effectiveness of mass larval reseeding, 5. Use the results to develop guidelines and technical reports and peer-reviewed publications. The project has achieved its aim and main objectives and has provided globally significant results. We have substantially increased knowledge of the main coral spawning periods for 16 species in the Bolinao-Anda reef region, northern Luzon. Major coral spawning periods occur from February to July each year, significantly extending the known period when mass coral larval rearing can occur for experiments and larval settlement on damaged reefs. Large multispecific coral spawning was recorded in situ during March 2015 enabling larger scale larval settlement in future. Experiments showed optimal fertilization requires sperm densities of >104 ml-1, and combining gametes from different colonies shortly after spawning is important for maximising fertilization success. Millions of coral larvae from multiple species were successfully reared at Bolinao Marine Laboratory, and experiments demonstrated that tiles made from natural dead coral skeletons are more effective for monitoring coral larval settlement and survival than artificial tile substrata. Mass larval enhancement (‘reseeding’) trials were successfully completed on degraded reef sites at Magsaysay reef, Anda where the coral community had been destroyed by blast fishing etc. In 2013, ~1.6 million Acropora tenuis coral larvae were deployed in low-cost mesh enclosures resulting in high settlement rates (27±6.1 SE spat/tile) in larval settlement sites, whereas no corals settled in control sites. Recruit survival showed the expected pattern of initial post-settlement mortality, however, there was 100% survival on both recruitment tiles and natural reef substrata from 9 months to 2 years. Mean numbers of surviving corals on natural reef substrata and tiles after 2 years were 24±12 and 5±1.6, respectively. Growth of recruits significantly increased over time, and growth rates were comparable on natural reef substrata and tiles. In 2014, ~900,000 Acropora granulosa larvae were used to ‘reseed’ other nearby reef sites resulting in similar high settlement rates (25±13 spat/tile), with no recruits in control sites. Recruit survival subsequently decreased, while surviving juveniles grew to visible size at 8 mo. Monitoring showed very low natural recruitment rates especially of branching Acropora, indicating that these reef sites will have very slow rates of recovery without active intervention. These outcomes clearly demonstrate that coral recruitment can be significantly enhanced using mass larval settlement to rapidly initiate coral population restoration and fast growth even on degraded reef areas. High survival of juvenile corals after 9 months shows that mass larval enhancement is a viable and effective active restoration option for initiating coral population recovery where natural recruitment is limited. The success of the low-cost mass larval settlement techniques demonstrated in this project will enable this approach to be used in initiating coral restoration in a wide range of other degraded reefs in the Philippines and around the world. It is recommended that expanded larval enhancement trials be used to initiate reef restoration at larger reef scales in future, further build research training and capacity, and examine socio-economic impacts of reef restoration.
Full-text available
Aim To reveal underlying distributional mechanisms of tropical reef fishes in the South Atlantic. Location The tropical South Atlantic, with emphasis on the Brazilian province. Methods The disjunct distributions of thirty-five reef fish species occurring in the Brazilian Province were analysed to allow a better understanding of present biogeo- graphical patterns. To avoid potential bias because of taxonomic problems or misidentification, we only included families taxonomically well documented, with conspicuous species, and relatively easy to identify. Results The low-level differentiation between Caribbean and Brazilian species/popula- tions, as well as the presence of restricted populations of a few northern or southern species on the opposite side of the Amazon River, clearly indicate that this barrier to dispersion can be occasionally bridged. Transoceanic dispersal appears to be frequent and to occur along three routes: from the Caribbean to North East Atlantic, from northern Brazil to the Gulf of Guinea, and from Africa to southern Brazil. Intermediate stepping-stones are apparently not required along transatlantic routes because of the rarity of consecutive colonizations. However, intermediate stopovers are persistently used along short routes. In all cases, the long-term success of colonists, i.e. the establishment of stable local populations, appears to depend upon ecological factors. Main conclusions The puzzling patterns of distribution found in the South Atlantic seem primarily the outcome of allopatric speciation and of the interaction of long distance dispersal abilities and ecological processes. Successfulness of the colonization of remote sites appears to be less dependent from dispersal ability than upon persistence ability or settlement preferences.
Full-text available
The American Fisheries Society (AFS) recognizes that reef fishes must be conservatively managed to avoid rapid overfishing and stock collapse because reef fish communities comprise slow-growing, late maturing fishes such as groupers and snappers. Therefore, the Society recommends that for such species, fishing mortality should be maintained at or near natural mortality. In addition, AFS cautions that an imbalance in the normal sex ratio may occur rapidly during harvesting of many reef fishes, thus leading to stock collapse because many reef fish species mature first as female but then become male later in life; most of the older, larger individuals in the population are male. Thus, conventional management modeling tools such as Spawner Biomass Per Recruit may lead to overly optimistic conclusions and should be used with caution. Many reef fish species form predictable, localized, seasonal spawning aggregations that are very vulnerable to overharvesting. Such aggregations should be protected. The AFS supports the establishment of networks of large Marine Protected Areas and the development of individual transferable quotas, along with more conventional management measures to help maintain and restore reef fish populations and their habitats. The AFS encourages its members to become involved by providing technical information needed for protection of long-lived reef fishes to international, federal, state, and provincial policy makers so decisions are made on a scientific, rather than emotional or political, basis.
Full-text available
Serious concerns have been raised about the ecological effects of industrialized fishing, spurring a United Nations resolution on restoring fisheries and marine ecosystems to healthy levels. However, a prerequisite for restoration is a general understanding of the composition and abundance of unexploited fish communities, relative to contemporary ones. We constructed trajectories of community biomass and composition of large predatory fishes in four continental shelf and nine oceanic systems, using all available data from the beginning of exploitation. Industrialized fisheries typically reduced community biomass by 80% within 15 years of exploitation. Compensatory increases in fast-growing species were observed, but often reversed within a decade. Using a meta-analytic approach, we estimate that large predatory fish biomass today is only about 10% of pre-industrial levels. We conclude that declines of large predators in coastal regions have extended throughout the global ocean, with potentially serious consequences for ecosystems. Our analysis suggests that management based on recent data alone may be misleading, and provides minimum estimates for unexploited communities, which could serve as the 'missing baseline' needed for future restoration efforts.
Full-text available
We report a massive region-wide decline of corals across the entire Caribbean basin, with the average hard coral cover on reefs being reduced by 80%, from about 50% to 10% cover, in three decades. Our meta-analysis shows that patterns of change in coral cover are variable across time periods but largely consistent across subregions, suggesting that local causes have operated with some degree of synchrony on a region-wide scale. Although the rate of coral loss has slowed in the past decade compared to the 1980s, significant declines are persisting. The ability of Caribbean coral reefs to cope with future local and global environmental change may be irretrievably compromised.
The last thorough qualitative description of the unique Brazilian coral communities was elaborated in the 1960's. This paper reviews the status of knowledge of Brazilian reefs, with emphasis on coral communities. Larger reef coral communities were recorded from near the Equator (00°53′S) to Cape Frio (23°S), but the southernmost true reefs are in the Abrolhos area (18°S). Fifteen scleractinian species from Brazilian reefs (five endemics) have been described. In Northern Brazil, the scattered information indicates mostly offshore or oceanic communities dominated by coralline algae, with Siderastrea stellata as the main stony coral. However, 'Parcel do Manuel Luiz' seems to harbor a unique coral community established on a rocky structure. Northeastern reefs have mostly long lines of fringing reefs (many on beach rocks), with submerged parallel lines offshore. Eastern reefs are uniquely characterized by the major reef builder species Mussismilia braziliensis (endemic in this region) and pinnacles (chapeirões) as an important reef structure (sometimes fused to form bank reefs). Although there is a lack of information on almost all aspects of reef studies, the current (1990s) surge of papers indicate they are gaining attention from the scientific community. Current researchers also have been collaborating with conservation efforts.
Abrolhos: o refúgio pleioscênico de uma fauna de coral
  • Zmn Leão
Leão, ZMN (1983) Abrolhos: o refúgio pleioscênico de uma fauna de coral. Ciências da Terra. 8: 22-24..
Les peuplements de Madréporaries des côtes tropicales du Brésil. Ann. Univ. d'Abidjan, Serie E (Ecologie) II, 3
  • J Laborel
Laborel, J (1969) Les peuplements de Madréporaries des côtes tropicales du Brésil. Ann. Univ. d'Abidjan, Serie E (Ecologie) II, 3. 260 pp. (in french).