[Coral-List] Poor terminology in coral reef research 2: Spur and Groove

Thomas Goreau goreau at bestweb.net
Fri Nov 3 13:17:55 EST 2006

Many coral reef researchers are still incorrectly using the term  
"SPUR AND GROOVE" more than 50 years after this error was identified  
in the first work on coral species zonation (T. F. Goreau, 1956, A  
Study of the Biology and Histochemistry of Corals, Yale).

True Spur and Groove is the result of erosion, with the grooves  
incised into older hard rock, with little live coral coverage, and  
with erosion rounded boulders, not sand, in the grooves. This is what  
Mike Risk has recently described on the list server on the outer  
reefs of Mauritius, and is especially common in the Pacific, where it  
was first described in the 1947 studies at Bikini Atoll. It is very  
rare in the Caribbean, but true Spur and Groove can be found on the  
northern Barrier Reefs in the Turks and Caicos Islands (T. J. Goreau,  
T. Fisher, F. Perez, and K. Lockhart, 2006, Turks and Caicos Islands  
Coral Reef Assessment and Management and Restoration Strategy,  
Department of Environment and Coastal Resources, in press).

However almost all of what is now being called "Spur and Groove", at  
least in the Caribbean, has a completely different origin, the result  
of growth by living corals. These are CONSTRUCTIONAL, not EROSIONAL  
features. The  canyon sides were (originally) almost completely  
covered by live corals, and the bottom covered with reef sand flowing  
episodically down slope. The correct term for these formations is  
"Buttress and Canyon", with the heights of the growing coral  
buttresses above the canyons ranging from as little as inches to as  
much as 30 meters or more in the kinds of exceptionally healthy reefs  
we used to have in Jamaica. The fact that almost all the corals are  
now dead should not blind us to their very different origin by  
imprecise terminology that acts to confuse factors causing them, and  
it would be a good idea for people to again differentiate the origins  
of these superficially similar but very distinct morphological  
features by distinguishing them with the separate terms proposed half  
a century ago.

Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
Global Coral Reef Alliance
37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
goreau at bestweb.net

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