Coral refs are the most diverse communities per unit area on Earth and the most diverse marine communities, yet they are poorly known taxonomically. There are possibly 30,000 total described taxa for Caribbean coral reefs, most of them macroscopic organisms, however, this is a small fraction, probably only between 5-10% of what actually inhabit these communities. Basic taxonomy represents one of the biggest gaps in our current knowledge of coral reef biodiversity. Fish, molluscs, echinoderms, scleractinian corals, algae and sponges are the best known taxa, but taxonomic problems still exist in most of the major sessile invertebrate groups. Also, even for the best known groups, we know very little about their basic biology (life history, reproduction and dispersion), ecology (local distribution, abundance, habitat associations, natural and anthropogenic threats) and biogeography (geographic distributions).
During the Caribbean KUU workshop, the CARICORAL group was formed. Their discussions indicated that in the region, there is a wealth of information about coral reef biodiversity at local scales, however, much of this information is in the grey literature. In this sense, one of the major needs to have a better understanding and knowledge of these ecosystems in the region is to synthesize and integrate all this information and in this way, develop a picture of what is known about Caribbean coral reef biodiversity. During the February 2007 workshop in Panama, the CARICORAL group formulated a plan of action to validate and synthesize the existing reef literature in the region.
The goals of CARICORAL are:
- To update and summarize the available taxonomic information in the region
- To digitalise all this information (after having it reviewed, summarized and synonymies having been clarified) and produce an electronic database uploadable into OBIS
- To use this information to identify taxonomic gaps (the unknown: which groups are under-studied)
- To design an approach to do a rapid and efficient census/sampling to increase our knowledge of the unknown and produce updated species lists of these groups for the wider Caribbean.
The expected outcomes of the CARICORAL project will be:
- an updated reference list, including grey literature, in digital format to be available in the CoML webpage
- an updated list of Caribbean coral reef taxa – verification of doubtful species – synonymies
- the incorporation of all verified and georeferenced data into OBIS.