Abstract

Morrocoy National Park used 19 be considered the most important continental coral reef of Venezuela However, in January of 1996, there was a massive mortality of the bentbic organisms for unknown reasons. The coral reef community was monitored since 1995, the year before the event, and yearly after that, until June 1999, by sampling linear transects and quadrats. A total of 26 hard corals were recorded in the study site (Playa Mero) in 1995 (36.56% cover), which already had some deterioration because 90.86% of the living coral cover was rep­ resented basically by four species, M annularis with 51.36%, Colpophyllia natans with 18.22%, Agaricia agaricites with 11.58% and Porites porites with 9.70%. Three months after the event, living coral cover was only 4.84% and a1gae, particularly Dyctiota spp. covered most of the surface (81.89%). Benthic organisms suffered massive mortality over the whole depth gradient and in most park reefs. Even after three years the reef commu­nity shows highly perturbed conditions, with 85% of the total cover represented by the categories: dead coral, dead coral overgrowth by algae and sand. From the initial coral rishness of the area (26 species) only nine species were observed although in very lowcover (<1%), except for M. annularis and M. franksi, which presented light­ly higher percentages.
Keywords: Coral reefs, impact, reef community structure, Venezuela, mortality event