Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Biological Sciences


L. David Smith


Belize, Caribbean, Mexico Rocks, Coral reefs, Patch reefs, Coral diversity, Marine protected areas, MPA, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Phase shifts, Orbicella annularis, Coral reefs and islands-Belize-Ambergris, Marine parks and reserves-Belize, Alcyonacean, Biodiversity


With increasing pressure from natural and anthropogenic disturbances, monitoring coral reefs’ composition and condition is of growing importance. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are being implemented worldwide as a potential solution for marine ecosystem recovery, but assessing their effectiveness requires information about the biological community before and after the MPA is established. This study investigated substrate composition, diversity and abundance of scleractinian and alcyonacean corals, and size distribution and spatial pattern of patch reef mounds in a recently established MPA at Mexico Rocks, Belize in 2015 and 2016 to create such a detailed baseline assessment. Percent cover of major substrate categories differed significantly among mounds but not between years or locations within Mexico Rocks. Mexico Rocks was dominated by macroalgae (e.g., 51.3 + 4.8% in 2016) followed by live scleractinian corals covered only (23.9 + 6.4%). Alcyonaceans were represented by 6 genera and made up relatively little of the mound surfaces (e.g., 11.0 + 2.7% in 2016). Live scleractinian corals consisted almost entirely of Orbicella (formerly Montastrea) annularis (89.0%). Gorgonia (49.3%), Briareum (23.2%) and Eunicea (10.9 %) were the most prevalent alcyonacean genera found at Mexico Rocks. The current percent live scleractinian coral cover (~24%) corresponds to the ~22% recorded by Brown-Saracino et al. (2007) between 2001-2005, therefore, the data suggest that Mexico Rocks is in an alternative macroalgal-dominated stable state. Mexico Rocks currently consists of approximately 516 mounds, ranging in surface area from 0.9 m2 to 369.2 m2. Annual surveys at Mexico Rocks are needed to track changes from this baseline assessment to document effects of hurricanes and warming events, ecosystem resilience, MPA effectiveness, and future phase shifts.




90 pages : color illustrations. Includes bibliographical references (pages 86-90)