Nearshore coral growth declining on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.Glob Chang Biol. 2019 11; 25(11):3932-3945.GC
Anthropogenic global change and local stressors are impacting coral growth and survival worldwide, altering the structure and function of coral reef ecosystems. Here, we show that skeletal extension rates of nearshore colonies of two abundant and widespread Caribbean corals (Siderastrea siderea, Pseudodiploria strigosa) declined across the Belize Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) over the past century, while offshore coral conspecifics exhibited relatively stable extension rates over the same temporal interval. This decline has caused nearshore coral extension rates to converge with those of their historically slower growing offshore coral counterparts. For both species, individual mass coral bleaching events were correlated with low rates of skeletal extension within specific reef environments, but no single bleaching event was correlated with low skeletal extension rates across all reef environments. We postulate that the decline in skeletal extension rates for nearshore corals is driven primarily by the combined effects of long-term ocean warming and increasing exposure to higher levels of land-based anthropogenic stressors, with acute thermally induced bleaching events playing a lesser role. If these declining trends in skeletal growth of nearshore S. siderea and P. strigosa continue into the future, the structure and function of these critical nearshore MBRS coral reef systems is likely to be severely impaired.