Coral Reefs

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 43–55 | Cite as

A model for wave control on coral breakage and species distribution in the Hawaiian Islands

  • C. D. Storlazzi
  • E. K. Brown
  • M. E. Field
  • K. Rodgers
  • P. L. Jokiel


The fringing reef off southern Molokai, Hawaii, is currently being studied as part of a multi-disciplinary project led by the US Geological Survey. As part of this study, modeling and field observations were utilized to help understand the physical controls on reef morphology and the distribution of different coral species. A model was developed that calculates wave-induced hydrodynamic forces on corals of a specific form and mechanical strength. From these calculations, the wave conditions under which specific species of corals would either be stable or would break due to the imposed wave-induced forces were determined. By combining this hydrodynamic force-balance model with various wave model output for different oceanographic conditions experienced in the study area, we were able to map the locations where specific coral species should be stable (not subject to frequent breakage) in the study area. The combined model output was then compared with data on coral species distribution and coral cover at 12 sites along Molokai’s south shore. Observations and modeling suggest that the transition from one coral species to another may occur when the ratio of the coral colony’s mechanical strengths to the applied (wave-induced) forces may be as great as 5:1, and not less than 1:1 when corals would break. This implies that coral colony’s mechanical strength and wave-induced forces may be important in defining gross coral community structure over large (orders of 10’s of meters) spatial scales.


Hawaiian Islands Montipora Pocillopora Porites Wave forces 



This work was carried out as part of the USGS’s Coral Reef Project as part of an effort in the US and its trust territories to better understand the affect of geologic processes on coral reef systems. Eric Brown, Ku’ulei Rodgers, and Paul Jokiel contributed as part of the ongoing USGS/University of Hawaii Cooperative Studies Program. We would like to thank Joe Reich, the Captain of the R.V. Alyce C., who piloted and navigated during the coral coverage surveys and during our numerous dive transects and instrument deployments. Joshua Logan (USGS) helped during most of the boat operations, produced most of the maps we used in the field, and collected most of our geospatial information, and for that we owe him much thanks. We would also like to thank Jodi Harney (USGS) and Eric Grossman (USGS), who contributed numerous excellent suggestions and preliminary reviews of our work. Two anonymous reviewers and the editors at Coral Reefs provided constructive reviews that improved this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. D. Storlazzi
    • 1
  • E. K. Brown
    • 2
  • M. E. Field
    • 1
  • K. Rodgers
    • 2
  • P. L. Jokiel
    • 2
  1. 1.Coastal and Marine Geology ProgramUS Geological Survey, Pacific Science CenterSanta CruzUSA
  2. 2.Hawaii Institute of Marine BiologyUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaKaneoheUSA

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