Coral Reefs

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 559–569

Sediment resuspension and transport patterns on a fringing reef flat, Molokai, Hawaii

  • A. S. Ogston
  • C. D. Storlazzi
  • M. E. Field
  • M. K. Presto


Corals are known to flourish in various turbid environments around the world. The quantitative distinction between clear and turbid water in coral habitats is not well defined nor are the amount of sediment in suspension and rates of sedimentation used to evaluate the condition of reef environments well established. This study of sediment resuspension, transport, and resulting deposition on a fringing reef flat off Molokai, Hawaii, uses a year of time-series data from a small, instrumented tripod. It shows the importance of trade winds and ocean wave heights in controlling the movement of sediment. Sediment is typically resuspended daily and the dominant controls on the magnitude of events (10–25 mg/l) are the trade-wind-generated waves and currents and tidal elevation on the reef flat. The net flux of sediment on this reef is primarily along the reef flat in the direction of the prevailing trade winds (to the west), with a secondary direction of slightly offshore, towards a zone of low coral abundance.

These results have application to reef studies and reef management in other areas in several ways. First, the observed resuspension and turbidity results from fine-grained terrigenous sediment that appears to be trapped and recycled on the reef flat. Thus corals are subjected to light attenuation by the same particles repeatedly, however small the amount. Secondly, the measurements show high temporal variability (from daily to seasonal scales) of sediment resuspension, indicating that single measurements are inadequate to accurately describe conditions on a reef flat.


Suspended sediment Turbidity Coral reefs Sedimentation Reef flat 


  1. Acevedo RJ, Morelock J, Olivieri RA (1989) Modification of coral reef zonation by terrigenous sediment stress. Palaios 4:92–100Google Scholar
  2. Anthony KRN (2000) Enhanced particle-feeding capacity of corals on turbid reefs (Great Barrier Reef, Australia). Coral Reefs 19:59–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown BE (1997) Disturbances to reefs in recent times. In: Birkeland C (ed) Life and Death of Coral Reefs. Chapman and Hall, London, 536 ppGoogle Scholar
  4. Buddemeier RW, Hopley D (1998) Turn-ons and turn-offs: causes and mechanisms of the initiation and termination of coral reef growth. Proc 6th Int Coral Reef Congr, Townsville, AU, 253–261 ppGoogle Scholar
  5. Bunt JAC, Larcombe P, Jago CF (1999) Quantifying the response of optical backscatter devices and transmissometers to variations in suspended particulate matter. Cont Shelf Res 19:1199–1220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cacchione DA (1998) Bottom currents, waves, and sand transport in a reef channel off Kailua, Hawaii. 1st Reg Conf on Coastal Erosion Management in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. Wailea, Maui, 1–3 AprilGoogle Scholar
  7. Calhoun RS, Field ME (2001) Beach and reef-flat sediments along the south shore of Moloka’i, Hawai’i. Proc Carbonate Beaches 2000, Am Soc Civ Eng, 163–171 ppGoogle Scholar
  8. Cortes J, Macintyre IG, Glynn PW (1994) Holocene growth history of an eastern Pacific fringing reef, Punta Islotes, Costa Rica. Coral Reefs 13:65–73Google Scholar
  9. Dodge RE, Aller RC, Thompson J (1974) Coral growth related to suspension of bottom sediments. Nature 247:574–577Google Scholar
  10. Dodge RE, Vaisnys JR (1977) Coral populations and growth pattern: Responses to sedimentation and turbidity associated with dredging. J Mar Res 35:715–730Google Scholar
  11. Edmunds PJ, Spencer-Davies P (1989) An energy budget for Porites porites (Scleractinia), growing in a stressed environment. Coral Reefs 8:37–43Google Scholar
  12. Field ME, Bothner M, Jokiel PL, Ogston AS (2000) Response of a reef to sediment overload: Moloka’i, Hawai’i. Abstract volume, 9th Int Coral Reef Sym, 61 ppGoogle Scholar
  13. Fletcher CH, Richmond BM, Grossman EE, Gibbs AE (2004) Atlas of Natural Hazards in the Hawaiian Coastal Zone. USGS Geologic Investigations Series 1–2716, 186 pp (in press)Google Scholar
  14. Fortes M (2000) The Effects of Siltation on Tropical Coastal Ecosystems. In: Wolanski E (ed) Oceanographic Processes of Coral Reefs. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 93–112Google Scholar
  15. Gulko D, Maragos J, Friedlander A, Hunter C, Brainard R (2000) Status of coral reefs in the Hawaiian Archipelago. In: Wilkinson C (ed) Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2000. Australian Institute of Marine ScienceGoogle Scholar
  16. Hubbard DK, Scature D (1985) Growth rates of seven species of scleractinian corals from Cane Bay and Salt River, St. Croix, USVI. Bull Mar Sci 32:890–908Google Scholar
  17. Hjulstrom F (1955) Transportation of detritus by moving water. In: Trask PD (ed) Recent Marine Sediments, a symposium, SEPM, Spec Pub 4, pp 5–31Google Scholar
  18. Jokiel P, Brown E, Field ME (2004) Distribution of coral along the 10-m isobath, South Moloka’i, Hawai’i. US Geological Survey Open File Report (in press)Google Scholar
  19. Jokiel P, Brown E, Friedlander A, Rodgers SK, Smith WR (2004) Hawai’i coral reef assessment and monitoring program: Spatial patterns and temporal dynamics in reef communities. Pac Sci (in press)Google Scholar
  20. Komar PD, Miller MC (1973) The threshold of sediment movement under oscillatory water waves. J Sed Pet 43:1101–1110Google Scholar
  21. Larcombe P, Costen A, Woolfe K (2001) The hydrodynamic and sedimentary setting of nearshore coral reefs, central Great Barrier Reef shelf, Australia: Paluma Shoals, a case study. Sedimentology 48:1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Moberly RM, Chamberlain T (1964) Hawaiian Beach Systems. University of Hawai’i, 95 ppGoogle Scholar
  23. National Climate Data Center (2001) Electronic data
  24. Roberts LM (2001) Historical Land Use, Coastal Change, and Sedimentation on South Moloka’i. In: Saxena N (ed) Recent Advances in Marine Science and Technology, 2000, PACON International, pp 167–176Google Scholar
  25. Rogers CS (1983) Sublethal and lethal effects of sediments applied to common Caribbean reef corals in the field. Mar Poll Bull 14:378–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rogers CS (1990) Responses of coral reefs and reef organisms to sedimentation. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 62:185–202Google Scholar
  27. Roy KJ, Smith SV (1971) Sedimentation and coral reef development in turbid water: Fanning Lagoon. Pac Sci 25:234–248Google Scholar
  28. Schroeder TA (1993) Climate Controls. In: Sanderson M (ed) Prevailing Trade Winds. University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 126 ppGoogle Scholar
  29. Storlazzi CD, Logan JB, Field ME (2004) Quantitative morphology of a fringing reef from high-resolution laser bathymetry: Southern Moloka’i, Hawai’i, GSA Bulletin (in press)Google Scholar
  30. Swart DH (1974) Offshore sediment transport and equilibrium beach profiles. Delft Hydraulic Lab Publication, No. 131Google Scholar
  31. Szmant AM, Yeung C, Cohen K (2000) Turbidity and sedimentation as stressor to Florida reef corals. Abstract volume, 9th Int Coral Reef Sym, 63 ppGoogle Scholar
  32. Te FT (1992) Response to higher sediment loads by Pocillopora damicornis planulae. Coral Reefs 11:131–134Google Scholar
  33. Tudhoe AW, Scoffin TP (1994) Growth and structure of fringing reefs in a muddy environment, south Thailand. J Sed Res A64:752–764Google Scholar
  34. Wiens HJ (1962) Atoll Environment and Ecology. Yale University Press, New Haven, 532 ppGoogle Scholar
  35. Woolfe KJ, Larcombe P (1998) Terrigenous sedimentation and coral reef growth: a conceptual framework. Mar Geol 155:331–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Yates K, Halley RH (2000) Reef production in a shallow, turbid environment. Abstract volume, 9th Int Coral Reef Sym, 66 ppGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. S. Ogston
    • 1
  • C. D. Storlazzi
    • 2
  • M. E. Field
    • 2
  • M. K. Presto
    • 1
  1. 1.School of OceanographyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey Santa CruzUSA

Personalised recommendations