HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management

Second Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

David S. Gilliam

Second Advisor

Brian K. Walker

Third Advisor

Richard E. Spieler


The Veracruz Reef System (VRS) is located in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. It is comprised of 28 coral reefs in various stages of development and conservation. They are protected under the Parque Nacional Sistema Arrecifal Veracruzano National Park created in 1992. There are many threats to the reefs of the VRS, including the Port and city of Veracruz, which hosts half a million inhabitants and Mexico’s oldest active port. The inhabitants of Veracruz have used reef resources for thousands of years, as evidenced in archaeological sites on Sacrificios island, and constructions throughout the city, most notably in the San Juan de Ulúa Fort which was built entirely of coral skeletons. Despite the usage and protection given under the National Park, there is relatively little known about the health and condition of the stony corals in the System. There has only been one large scale study of 21 reefs conducted in the VRS in the late 1980’s. Since then, the National Park was created and 28 reefs are now recognized. This study performed point-intercept transects on 24 of these reefs including five reefs added to the official list in 2012. Point-intercept transects were surveyed at 63 sites between 2007 and 2014. Percent cover was calculated for seven functional groups. Additionally, demographic data of a subset of individual stony coral colonies were assessed on each transect. The functional group with the greatest cover in the VRS was crustose coralline algae (mean ± S.E.: 28.9% ± 1.97), stony corals had the second highest cover (21.5% ± 1.24). The Jamapa river divides the VRS into two groups the Veracruz group to the North and the Anton Lizardo group to the south of the river mouth. The Veracruz group had lower crustose coralline algae cover (28.1% ± 2.71) and coral cover (17.8% ± 1.55) than the Anton Lizardo group (29.6% ± 2.87 CCA and 25.3% ± 1.86 coral cover). The highest average coral cover on a reef was recorded at Ahogado Chico (45.5% ± 5.58), and the highest cover recorded on a single transect was 70% at Santiaguillo reef. The lowest coral cover was recorded at the fringing reefs on the north of the VRS, Punta Gorda and Punta Brava which had less than 1% coral cover. Coral colonies averaged 69.1 cm ± 3.10 in length at the VRS, 56.8 cm ± 2.98 in the Veracruz group and 81.7 cm ± 5.11 in the Antón Lizardo group. Old partial mortality was 25% ± 1.05 overall and similar between groups, recent partial mortality was 1.2% ± 0.21 and 1% at both groups. Disease prevalence was 3.9% for the VRS, 2.9% ± 0.88 in the Veracruz group and 4.9% ± 1.11 in the Antón Lizardo group. Overall, these reefs are faring slightly better than other reefs in the Caribbean having higher coral cover and larger colonies. However, the great variability in the health and condition of these reefs demands added attention and clear management goals to ensure their persistence in the face of ever growing threats. It is important to decrease the sources of stress, such as construction and poor waste water management in the area, better regulate fishing and approach a watershed wide management plan which takes into account upstream effects from the rivers that discharge into the Veracruz Reef System.

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