Abstract

Reef-forming stromatolites have been discovered along the windward shoreline of Chetumal Bay, Belize, just south of the mouth of the Rio Hondo. The reefs and surrounding sediment are formed by the precipitation of submicrocrystalline calcite upon the sheaths of filamentous cyanobacteria, principally Scytonema, under a seasonally fluctuating, generally brackish salinity regime (0‰10‰). Well-cemented, wave-resistant buttresses of coalesced stromatolite heads form arcuate or club-shaped reefs up to 42 m long and 1.5 m in relief that are partially emergent during low tide. Oncolitic rubble fields are present between well-developed reefs along the 1.5 km trend, which parallels the mangrove coastline 40-100 m offshore. The mode of reef growth, as illustrated by surface relief and internal structure, changes with increasing water depth and energy, proximity to bottom sediments, and dominant cyanobacterial taxa. Sediment trapping and binding by cyanobacteria are of limited importance to reef growth, and occur only where stromatolite heads or oncolites are in direct contact with the sandy sea floor. Radiocarbon-dated mangrove peat at the base of the reef suggests that it began to form about 2300 yr B.P., as shoreline encrustations that were stranded offshore following storm-induced retreat of the mangrove coast.

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