Marine Science Faculty Publications

Physical Connectivity in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System Inferred from 9 Years of Ocean Color Observations

Document Type


Publication Date



Caribbean Sea, Connectivity matrices, Coral reefs, Numerical modeling, Remote sensing, River plumes

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Ocean color images acquired from the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) from 1998 to 2006 were used to examine the patterns of physical connectivity between land and reefs, and among reefs in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) in the northwestern Caribbean Sea. Connectivity was inferred by tracking surface water features in weekly climatologies and a time series of weekly mean chlorophyll-a concentrations derived from satellite imagery. Frequency of spatial connections between 17 pre-defined, geomorphological domains that include the major reefs in the MBRS and river deltas in Honduras and Nicaragua were recorded and tabulated as percentage of connections. The 9-year time series of 466 weekly mean images portrays clearly the seasonal patterns of connectivity, including river plumes and transitions in the aftermath of perturbations such as hurricanes. River plumes extended offshore from the Honduras coast to the Bay Islands (Utila, Cayo Cochinos, Guanaja, and Roatán) in 70% of the weekly mean images. Belizean reefs, especially those in the southern section of the barrier reef and Glovers Atoll, were also affected by riverine discharges in every one of the 9 years. Glovers Atoll was exposed to river plumes originating in Honduras 104/466 times (22%) during this period. Plumes from eastern Honduras went as far as Banco Chinchorro and Cozumel in Mexico. Chinchorro appeared to be more frequently connected to Turneffe Atoll and Honduran rivers than with Glovers and Lighthouse Atolls, despite their geographic proximity. This new satellite data analysis provides long-term, quantitative assessments of the main pathways of connectivity in the region. The percentage of connections can be used to validate predictions made using other approaches such as numerical modeling, and provides valuable information to ecosystem-based management in coral reef provinces.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Coral Reefs, v. 28, issue 2, p. 415-425