, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 57-64

Recovery of the coral Montastrea annularis in the Florida Keys after the 1987 Caribbean “bleaching event”

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Abstract

Many reef-building corals and other cnidarians lost photosynthetic pigments and symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) during the coral bleaching event in the Caribbean in 1987. The Florida Reef Tract included some of the first documented cases, with widespread bleaching of the massive coral Montastrea annularis beginning in late August. Phototransects at Carysfort Reef showed discoloration of >90% of colonies of this species in March 1988 compared to 0% in July 1986; however no mortality was observed between 1986 and 1988. Samples of corals collected in February and June 1988 had zooxanthellae densities ranging from 0.1 in the most lightly colored corals, to 1.6x106 cells/cm2 in the darker corals. Minimum densities increased to 0.5x106 cells/cm2 by August 1989. Chlorophyll-a content of zooxanthellae and zooxanthellar mitotic indices were significantly higher in corals with lower densities of zooxanthellae, suggesting that zooxanthellar at low densities may be more nutrientsufficient than those in unbleached corals. Ash-free dry weight of coral tissue was positively correlated with zooxanthellae density at all sample times and was significantly lower in June 1988 compared to August 1989. Proteins and lipids per cm2 were significantly higher in August 1989 than in February or June, 1988. Although recovery of zooxanthellae density and coral pigmentation to normal levels may occur in less than one year, regrowth of tissue biomass and energy stores lost during the period of low symbiont densities may take significantly longer.