Unprecedented bleaching-induced mortality in Porites spp. at Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia
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In April–May 1998, mass coral bleaching was observed in the lagoon of Rangiroa Atoll, Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia. Six months later, the extent of bleaching-induced coral mortality was assessed at three sites. Corals in the fast-growing genus Pocillopora had experienced >99% mortality. Many large colonies of the slow-growing genus Porites (mean horizontal cross-sectional area 5.8 m2) had also died – a phenomenon not previously observed in French Polynesia and virtually unprecedented world-wide. At one site, 25% of colonies, or 44% of the pre-bleaching cover of living Porites, experienced whole-colony mortality. At the two other sites, recently dead Porites accounted for 41% and 82% of the pre-bleaching live cover. Mortality in Porites was negatively correlated with depth between 1.5 and 5 m. Using a 50-year dataset of mean monthly sea surface temperature (SST), derived from ship- and satellite-borne instruments, we show that bleaching occurred during a period of exceptionally high summer SST. 1998 was the first year in which mean monthly SSTs exceeded the 1961–1990 upper 95% confidence limit (29.4°C) for a period of three consecutive months. We suggest that the sustained 3-month anomaly in local summer SST was a major cause of coral mortality, but do not discount the synergistic effect of solar radiation. Recovery of the size-frequency distribution of Porites colonies to pre-bleaching levels may take at least 100 years.
KeywordsCoral Bleaching Mass Coral Coral Mortality Live Cover Mass Coral Bleaching
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