Coral-spawn slicks in the Great Barrier Reef: preliminary observations
- Cite this article as:
- Oliver, J.K. & Willis, B.L. Mar. Biol. (1987) 94: 521. doi:10.1007/BF00431398
Aerial surveys and surface samples in the spring of 1985, showed that slicks of coral eggs and embryos (coral spawn) formed in large numbers within and between reefs in the Central Great Barrier Reef Region. Coral-spawn slicks appeared on the days immediately following the annual mass multispecific spawning of reef corals. They were white or pink in colour, and were often highly elongate in form extending up to 5 km in length, and 10 m in width. Over 99% of each slick sampled during the surveys consisted of dead eggs, embryos and their breakdown products, which formed dense, highly viscous patches readily recognizable during aerial surveys. Despite the low proportion of live material, the slicks contained high concentrations of live embryos (15 to 230 per litre) which were over two orders of magnitude greater than concentrations in adjacent water masses. The distinctive colour, shape and texture of the coral-spawn slicks generally distinguished them from slicks formed by blooms of the blue-green alga Oscillatoria erythraea, which also occur commonly in the region. Many of the slicks were closely associated with surface oceanographic features, such as fronts between water parcels, and wakes and eddies behind reefs. Although more detailed sampling and surveys are required, these results suggest that it may be possible to track the movements of coral embryos and larvae directly for the first one or two days following mass spawning, and indirectly thereafter by monitoring other surface features.