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Coral coverage has declined by over 80% in the Caribbean since the 1970s, with disease as one of the primary driving forces. A recent study in the Indo-Pacific suggests that there is less coral disease in reefs adjacent to seagrass meadows, as well as fewer coral pathogens (Lamb et al. 2017). I sought to evaluate the relationship between coral health and proximity to seagrass meadows in near-shore waters surrounding St. John, USVI. I compared disease incidence, tissue coverage, and colony density of symmetrical brain coral, Pseudodiploria strigosa, on reefs adjacent to seagrass meadows with reefs with no grass beds in close proximity. I also compared fish biodiversity and the benthic environment between sites with adjacent seagrass meadows and sites without adjacent meadows. P. strigosa found in reefs adjacent to seagrass meadows had 1) a higher density of small coral colonies, and 2) healthier large-sized colonies (measured by % tissue coverage) when compared to colonies at sites without seagrass meadows. However, there was no effect of seagrass meadow proximity on disease incidence in coral colonies. These results suggest there may be a connection between coral health or resilience and seagrass meadows. However, other factors like run-off or water quality may be influencing the patterns of coral health that I have observed.
Metz, Elaine, "Relationship of Near Shore Seagrass Meadows to the Health of Coral in St. John, USVI" (2019). Undergraduate Honors Theses. 18.