A Review of Puerto Rico’s Coral Reefs, Marine Connectivity, and Marine Protected Areas

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Bernhard Riegl

Second Advisor

Richard E. Spieler


Coral reef degradation has been documented in the Caribbean over the last four decades. Puerto Rico’s reefs have been especially impacted from rapid urban development along its coast. Because of the increasing anthropogenic impacts, marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established as a management tool to protect reef-associated taxa. At times socioeconomic concerns take precedence over scientific knowledge and input in the design of MPAs. One aspect of MPA design that has received increasing scrutiny over the last 10 years is the degree and scale of marine connectivity and its influences on the effectiveness of MPAs. Marine connectivity of coral reefs is, in large part, determined by the larval distribution of coral reef-associated taxa. Coral reefs within an MPA may depend on larvae that are locally retained or derived from upstream sources. Because of the Caribbean’s oceanography, Puerto Rico’s coral reefs receive upstream larval input from reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as from local retention. Research regarding marine connectivity in the Caribbean has also identified four potential biogeographic regions. This paper examines the reefs of Puerto Rico and their associated taxa, aspects of marine connectivity around Puerto Rico, and the status of Puerto Rico’s MPAs. Finally, I also suggest additional topics requiring research regarding marine connectivity and provide recommendations for future management strategies for Puerto Rico’s MPAs with regards to preserving reef biodiversity.

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