Ecological condition of coral reef assemblages in the Cuban Archipelago

The condition of coral reefs in the Cuban Archipelago is poorly known. We aimed to analyse coral assemblages across 199 reef sites belonging to 12 localities. Crest and fore reefs were assessed using six metrics: species richness, density, coral cover, mortality, coral size and reef complexity. The condition of reefs varied across the archipelago from healthy to depleted reefs. The localities with best scores were Cienfuegos, Bahía de Cochinos and Cazones. These reefs have values of living coral cover (>20%) and complexity (>50 cm) similar to the best preserved Caribbean reefs. However, the majority of crest biotopes suffered important deterioration with old mortality of Acropora palmata populations and moderate coral cover (15%); although crest reefs still maintained their structural complexity. Despite moderate levels of coral cover in fore reefs (18%), their condition was alarming because 25% of the sites had cover below the recovery threshold of 10%, accumulated mortality and structural flattening. Compared with the 1980s, the species richness was roughly the same (42) for crest and fore reefs, although dominance has changed to widespread tolerant species. Coral reef assemblages varied at local and regional scales in similar magnitude, suggesting the combined effects of natural and anthropogenic drivers.