Abstract

Ecological impacts of military bombing activities in Puerto Rico have often been described as minimal, with recurrent allegations of confounding effects by hurricanes, coral diseases and local anthropogenic stressors. Reef craters, though isolated, are associated with major colony fragmentation and framework pulverization, with a net permanent loss of reef bio-construction. In contrast, adjacent non-bombarded reef sections have significantly higher benthic spatial relief and biodiversity. We compared benthic communities on 35-50 year-old bomb-cratered coral reefs at Culebra and Vieques Islands, with adjacent non-impacted sites; 2) coral recruit density and fish community structure within and outside craters; and 3) early effects of a rehabilitation effort using low-tech Staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis farming. Reef craters ranged in size from approximately 50 to 400m2 and were largely dominated by heavily fragmented, flattened benthos, with coral cover usually below 2% and dominance by non-reef building taxa (i.e., filamentous algal turfs, macroalgae). Benthic spatial heterogeneity was lower within craters which also resulted in a lowered functional value as fish nursery ground. Fish species richness, abundance and biomass, and coral recruit density were lower within craters. Low-tech, community-based approaches to culture, harvest and transplant A. cervicornis into formerly bombarded grounds have proved successful in increasing percent coral cover, benthic spatial heterogeneity, and helping rehabilitate nursery ground functions. Rev. Biol. Trop. 62 (Suppl. 3): 183-200. Epub 2014 September 01.

Keywords: Benthic community structure, bombing impacts, community-based ecological rehabilitation, coral reefs, fish community structure, military activities, novel habitats