Assessing benthic reef assemblages: A comparison between no-take artificial reefs and partially protected natural reefs

C. A. Sánchez-Caballero*, J. M. Borges-Souza, A. Chavez-Hidalgo, A. Abelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The marine protected area (MPA) of the Espiritu Santo Archipelago (ESA; Gulf of California), is exposed to a high level of anthropogenic disturbances, consequently, the local authorities have deployed artificial reefs (shipwrecks) in the ESA area to increase fishing refuges, breeding sites, and tourist attractions. To explore the potential contribution of these artificial reefs as a conservation tool, we compared their benthic community structures (i.e. diversity and live cover categories) to those of the natural reefs. Our results indicate a higher abundance of mollusks on the artificial reefs compared to the natural reefs; a higher echinoderm abundance on the natural reefs; and a very similar species richness of hexacorals between the natural and artificial reefs, with 10 and 9 species recorded respectively. The natural reefs hosted a four-fold higher live cover of hexacorals than the artificial reefs, while the artificial reefs had a higher number of octocoral species, 8 versus 5 on the natural reefs. In addition, the artificial reefs had a 4.6 fold higher octocoral cover than the natural reefs. Overall findings indicate that the benthic community assemblages significantly differ between the natural and artificial reefs, which may be related to their location, structural composition, material, and morphology. These results suggest that shipwrecks have the potential to enhance local reef diversity by increasing the cover and abundance of certain benthic-associated species. Although the shipwrecks do not function as surrogate habitats for the adjacent natural rocky reefs, as no-take areas they provide suitable refuges for several target species (e.g. black coral and mollusks).

Original languageEnglish
Article number108347
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
StatePublished - 5 Jul 2023


  • Artificial reefs
  • Habitat composition
  • Marine protected area
  • Reef invertebrates


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