In October 1988, a cruise ship dropped its anchor on a coral reef in Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, creating a distinct scar roughly 128 m long and 3 m wide from a depth of 22 m to a depth of 6 m. The anchor pulverized coral colonies and smashed part of the reef framework. In April 1991, nine permanent quadrats (1 m2) were established inside the scar over a depth range of 9 m to 12.5 m. At that time, average coral cover inside the scar was less than 1%. These quadrats were surveyed again in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1998. Recruits of 19 coral species have been observed, with Agaricia agaricites and Porites spp. the most abundant. Quadrats surveyed outside the scar in June 1994 over the same depth range had a higher percent coral cover (mean = 7.4%, SD = 4.5) and greater average size (maximum length) of coral colonies than in quadrats inside the damaged area. Although coral recruits settle into the scar in high densities, live coral cover has not increased significantly in the last 10 yrs, reflecting poor survival and growth of newly settled corals. The relatively planar aspect of the scar may increase the vulnerability of the recruits to abrasion and mortality from shifting sediments. Ten years after the anchor damage occurred, live coral cover in the still-visible scar (mean = 2.6%, SD = 2.7) remains well below the cover found in the adjacent, undamaged reef.
Additional publication details
Ten years after the crime: Lasting effects of damage from a cruise ship anchor on a coral reef in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands