Seaflower Marine Protected Area

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Chapter 3. SITE DESCRIPTION

c - Biological features

Habitats

Brief description of dominant and particular habitats (marine and terrestrial)*: List here the habitats and ecosystems that are representative and/or of importance for the WCR (i.e. mangroves, coral reefs, etc):


The Seaflower MPA contains the largest, most productive open-ocean coral reefs in the Caribbean and includes complete extended coral reefs with all associated ecosystems and a high level of habitat representation. Other habitat types include mangrove forests, sea grass and algal beds, soft bottoms, beaches, and open ocean. These offer sea bird and sea turtle nesting sites; fish spawning, nursery, and aggregation sites; habitat for a number of threatened species; and demonstrated local and regional genetic and ecological connectivity.

Coral reef formations are particularly complex here as a result of their oceanic location and the heavy wave action and turbulence to which they are subjected as the result of high swells generated by the trade winds over a 2,000 km wave fetch (Geister and Diaz 1997). This is a major influence on coral reef morphology, sedimentology, and reef community structure. There are over 200,000 ha of coral; extensive and diverse benthic habitats include barrier reefs, reef lagoons, reef slopes, fore-reefs, deep coral plateaus, numerous seamounts, and deep coral reefs (Diaz et al. 2000). The MPA features rare and beautiful coral reef formations such as tall pinnacles, steep walls, extensive meander-like Montastrea lagoons, and ribbon reefs with high Acropora coverage.

Each site exhibits its own special characteristics. For example, the Old Providence and Santa Catalina reef complex, covering an area of approximately 25,500 ha, is one of the largest in the western hemisphere (Geister and Diaz 1997). The windward reefs of Courtown are considered to be a unique and unusual reef environment (Geister and Diaz 1997) due to the influence of strong waves and currents, turbulences and the presence of an intricate system of caves. Remote areas such as Roncador demonstrate high reef integrity with little anthropogenic influence. Unlike most Caribbean reefs, the dominant reef-building coral at Roncador is Montastraea franksi.

In regard to other habitats, there are 12 mangrove lagoons (covering over 250 ha) on San Andres, Old Providence and Santa Catalina, showing classic zoning patterns. They provide habitat, food and refuge to a wide variety of marine and coastal fauna and flora. Productive and healthy seagrass beds (estimated at over 2,000 ha) are also found primarily along the shores of these islands. They stabilize the sea bottom, help control erosion, and provide food, oxygen, and habitat for marine life. Algal beds, soft bottoms, beaches, and the deep ocean are other habitats found in the MPA. Sea turtle nesting occurs on the more isolated beaches. Deep sea areas are largely unexplored but are considered to be important for flows, connectivity, spawning aggregations, larval dispersal and maintaining marine food webs.

Detail for each habitat/ecosystem the area it covers:

Marine / coastal ecosystem categories
Detail for each habitat / ecosystem the area covers
Size (estimate) Description and comments
unit Area covered
Mangroves
Estuarine areas ha 250 The Seaflower MPA includes slightly over 250 ha of mangroves in 12 coastal, estuarine swamps. Four species – red, black, white, and buttonwood – are found.
Coral reefs
Corals ha 218850 There are over 200,000 ha of coral; extensive and diverse benthic habitats include barrier reefs, reef lagoons, reef slopes, fore-reefs, deep coral plateaus, numerous seamounts, and deep coral reefs (Diaz et al. 2000).
Sea grass beds
Seagrass beds ha 2000 Productive and healthy seagrass beds (estimated at over 2,000 ha) are also found primarily along the shores of these islands.v
Other marine ecosystems
Algal beds ha 4310
Terrestrial ecosystems
Size (estimate)
unit Area covered
Other terrestrial ecosystems
Beaches sq.km 29 Beaches – 2,940 ha