Linear breakwater reefs of the greater Caribbean: Classification, distribution & morphology

Paul Blanchon, Alexis E. Medina-Valmaseda, Eduardo Islas-Domínguez, Edlin Guerra-Castro, David Blakeway, Joaquín Rodrigo Garza Pérez, Adan Guillermo Jordan-Garza, Ismael Mariño-Tapia, Paula A. Zapata-Ramírez

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Geomorphic differences among Caribbean reefs have long been noted. These differences are considered to reflect the presence of reefs in different stages of development, following an incomplete recovery from rapid deglacial sea-level rise. But the possibility that these reflect real developmental differences caused by variation in wind, wave, and climate regime, has never been fully considered. Here, for the first time, we quantify the geomorphology and distribution of Greater Caribbean reefs using satellite images in Google Earth and public-domain bathymetry. To do this, we first standardise their classification based on shallow geomorphology, substrate depth, and physiographic setting, and then count and categorise the total number of reefs. These data show a total of 1023 linear breakwater reefs with a combined length of 2237 km. Of this total length, 80% are fringing reefs, 16% are barriers and 4% are faros and atolls. In terms of categories, there are 16 reef subtypes present, but only 9 are common. Their distribution, however, is not uniform. In particular, flat-subtypes form 60% of breakwater reefs in southern regions, but are less common in northern regions where crest-subtypes dominate (80%). To distinguish the geomorphology of these common reef subtypes, we collect size- and length-related morphometric data from their main reef zones. These data reveal that flat and crest subtypes also have morphometric differences: flat subtypes have well-constrained morphologies with statistically consistent unimodal morphometrics characterised by large back-reef zones, smaller and steeper reef fronts, and more sinuous and persistent crestlines. Crest subtypes, by contrast, have multimodal morphometrics suggesting less consistent morphologies (or unresolved subtypes), and are characterised by crestlines with lower sinuosity, more variable back-reef and reef- front areas, and slopes. These differences in geomorphology and distribution imply that flatand crest-subtypes are neither successional stages of a single reef type, nor a genetically related sequence of types, but distinct reefal geoforms with different modes of development. In subsequent work we will explore what controls these differences.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0270053
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number11 November
    StatePublished - Nov 2022

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2022 Blanchon et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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