• Algal biomass;
  • coral reefs;
  • fish biomass;
  • fishing impacts;
  • marine reserves;
  • reef degradation


The collapse of Caribbean coral reefs has been attributed in part to historic overfishing, but whether fish assemblages can recover and how such recovery might affect the benthic reef community has not been tested across appropriate scales. We surveyed the biomass of reef communities across a range in fish abundance from 14 to 593 g m−2, a gradient exceeding that of any previously reported for coral reefs. Increased fish biomass was correlated with an increased proportion of apex predators, which were abundant only inside large marine reserves. Increased herbivorous fish biomass was correlated with a decrease in fleshy algal biomass but corals have not yet recovered.