The benthic community off Lee Stocking Island exhibits a pronounced bathymetric zonation. Filamentous and macroalgae dominate from 10-50m and occupy 60-90% of the hard substrate. Corals cover 3-23% of the hard substrate above 50m. Below this depth corals decline and sponges increase in abundance and diversity. Coralline algae are abundant between 50-100m. The deepest zones are occupied by sponges, polychaetes and endolithic algae. Although living cover is high (75-90% of total bottom) above 100m, it declines (4-60%) below this depth. Substrate microtopography exerts a strong control on the distribution of the deep reef benthos with organisms largely restricted to vertical and overhanging surfaces where they are protected from sediment accumulation. The clear, oligotrophic waters of Exuma Sound enable light penetration to relatively great depths. This results in a 15m downward shift of the benthic zonation relative to other Western Atlantic sites such as Jamaica.
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