, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 377-382

Sea surface temperatures and coral reef bleaching off La Parguera, Puerto Rico (northeastern Caribbean Sea)

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Abstract

 Much recent attention has been given to coral reef bleaching because of its widespread occurrence, damage to reefs, and possible connection to global change. There is still debate about the relationship between temperature and widespread bleaching. We compared coral reef bleaching at La Parguera, Puerto Rico to a 30-y (1966–1995) record of sea surface temperature (SST) at the same location. The last eight years of the La Parguera SST record have all had greater than average maximum temperatures; over the past 30 y maximum summer temperature has increased 0.7 °C. Coral reef bleaching has been particularly frequent since the middle 1980s. The years 1969, 1987, 1990, and 1995 were especially noteworthy for the severity of bleaching in Puerto Rico. Seven different annual temperature indices were devised to determine the extent to which they could predict severe coral bleaching episodes. Three of these, maximum daily SST, days >29.5 °C, and days >30 °C predict correctly the four years with severe bleaching. A log-log linear relationship was found between SST and the number of days in a given year above that SST at which severe coral beaching was observed. However, the intra-annual relationship between temperature and the incidence of bleaching suggests that no one simple predictor of the onset of coral bleaching within a year may be applicable.

Accepted: 17 March 1998