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The Southern Lagoon of the Belize barrier complex, an area of some 600 km2, contains a tremendous number of lagoon reefs, which range in size from patches several meters across to rhomboidal-shaped structures several kilometers in their long dimension. These lagoon reefs are remarkable because they have Holocene sediment accumulations in excess of 13 m consisting almost entirely of coral debris and lime mud and sand, and rise up to 30 m above the surrounding lagoon floor with steeply sloping sides (50-80°), yet are totally uncemented.
The reef-building biota and their corresponding deposits were studied at a representative reef, the rhomboidal complex of Channel Cay. As with many of the reefs in this area, the steeply sloping flanks of Channel Cay are covered mainly by the branched staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis and ribbonlike and platy growth of Agaricia spp. The living corals are not cemented to the substrate, but are merely intergrown. Fragmented pieces of corals accumulate with an open framework below the living community; this open framework is subsequently infilled by lime muds and sands produced mainly from bioerosion. Results from probing and coring suggest that the bafflestone fabric of coral debris and sediment extends at least 13 m into the subsurface.
Radiocarbon-age estimates indicate these impressive piles of coral rubble and sediment have accumulated in the past 9,000 yr (giving a minimum accumulation rate of 1.4 m/1,000 yr) and illustrate the potential for significant carbonate buildups without the need for early lithification.
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