Coral reefs are rare in the Galapagos and there is concern that, like in many areas around the world, they may be degrading due to increasing anthropogenic pressure, which can cause changes and reorganizations of structure and function with associated phase shifts. Algae of the genus Caulerpa J.V. Lamouroux, 1809 are known as widespread and persistent marine invaders. They grow rapidly, particularly in disturbed areas where they can opportunistically monopolize substratum and compete with native species, thus reducing biodiversity. Caulerpa chemnitzia increased in abundance and overgrew corals on the reef since 2012, ultimately raising fears that a phase-shift from coral to algae might be imminent. However, from 2019 onwards algae populations strongly contracted and while not having returned to baseline level, there is currently low risk of corals being displaced. Visual censuses were conducted on a yearly basis since 2004 using sample quadrats (0.5 x 0.5m) every 5 m along a 50-m-long transects at a depth of 6–15 m at 5 permanent subtidal ecological monitoring sites around Darwin. In addition, 10 m photo-transects were taken using a graduated meter-long measuring stick in the centre of the frame in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2021 at a depth of 15m at Wellington reef. The authors hypothesize that this species could have expanded its distribution over Wellington Reef because of its known morphological plasticity due to a response to change in the environment, in this case high temperature and low nutrients. As ENSO events are predicted to increase in intensity and frequency due to the impact of climate change it is important to develop and implement a functional alert system. Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) protocols are recommended to avoid climate driven Non-Indigenous Species (NIS) entering the GMR or for native species becoming invasive due to warming-related phase shifts.
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Inti Keith, William Bensted-Smith, Stuart Banks, Jenifer Suarez, and Bernhard Riegl. 2022. Caulerpa chemnitzia in Darwin threatening Galapagos coral reefs .Plos One , (8) : e0272581 . https://nsuworks.nova.edu/occ_facarticles/1263.