Coral Reefs

, Volume 12, Issue 3–4, pp 185–191 | Cite as

Destruction of corals and other reef animals by coral spawn slicks on Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

  • C. J. Simpson
  • J. L. Cary
  • R. J. Masini


In March 1989, most of the corals near Coral Bay, off the north-western coastline of Australia, spawned several nights earlier than usual. Flood, rather than ebb, tides at the time of spawning combined with light north-west winds and low swell conditions to restrict the dispersal of coral propagules and, as a result, large amounts of coral spawn were trapped in the bay, forming extensive slicks. Fish and other animals began to die almost immediately, and over the next few days, over 1 million fish, representing at least 80 species, were washed ashore. A survey of the benthic communities revealed extensive mortality of corals and other reef animals over an area of about 3 km2. Live coral cover in this area decreased from 42.9% to 9.4% and several large coral colonies up to 10 m in diameter were killed. The observed mortality was presumably the result of hypoxia (oxygen depletion) created initially by the respiratory demand of the coral spawn and maintained by the biological oxygen demand of the decomposing spawn slicks and dead animals. Anecdotal reports of corals and other reef animals dying in the vicinity of coral spawn slicks on other reefs in Western Australia suggest that this phenomenon may be a relatively common event on shallow coral reefs where coral mass spawning occurs. These records and observations document, for the first time, a new source of natural disturbance that has a significant influence on the community structure of some coral reefs.


Coral Reef Coral Cover Biological Oxygen Demand Live Coral Coral Coloni 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. J. Simpson
    • 1
  • J. L. Cary
    • 1
  • R. J. Masini
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental Protection AuthorityPerth

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