Skip to main content

Bleaching, coral mortality and subsequent survivorship on a West Australian fringing reef


The spring and summer of 2010/11 saw an exceptionally strong La Niña push warm waters from Indonesia down the Western Australian coastline, resulting in a host of extraordinary biological oddities including significant bleaching of Western Australian corals. Here, we report a 79–92 % decline in coral cover for a location in the Ningaloo Marine Park where sustained high water temperatures over an 8-month period left just 1–6 % of corals alive. The severity of bleaching provided an opportunity to investigate the resilience of different taxonomic groups and colony size classes to an acute but protracted episode of thermal stress. While the sub-dominant community of massive growth forms fared reasonably well, the dominant Acropora and Montipora assemblages all died, with the exception of the <10 cm size class, which seemed immune to bleaching.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  • Abrego D, Van Oppen MJH, Willis BL (2009) Onset of algal endosymbiont specificity varies among closely related species of Acropora corals during early ontogeny. Mol Ecol 18:3532–3543

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Baird AH, Bhagooli R, Ralph PJ, Takahashi S (2009) Coral bleaching: the role of the host. TREE 24:16–20

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Eakin C, Lough J, Heron S (2009) Climate variability and change: monitoring data and evidence for increased coral bleaching stress. Coral Bleaching 205:41–67

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gilmour JP (2004) Size-structures of populations of the mushroom coral Fungia fungites: the role of disturbance. Coral Reefs 23:493–504

    Google Scholar 

  • Goreau T, McClanahan T, Hayes R, Strong A (2000) Conservation of corals after the 1998 global bleaching event. Conserv Biol 14:5–15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (2009) Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2009, Townsville, p 141

  • Guest JR, Baird AH, Maynard JA, Muttaqin E, Edwards J, Campbell SJ, Yewdall K, Affendi YA, Chou LM (2010) Contrasting patterns of coral bleaching susceptibility in 2010 suggest an adaptive response to thermal stress. PLoS ONE 7:e33353. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033353

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoegh-Guldberg O (1999) Climate change, coral bleaching and the future of the world’s coral reefs. Marine Freshw Research 50:839–866

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hughes TP, Baird AH, Bellwood DR, Card M, Connolly SR, Folke C, Grosberg R, Hoegh-Guldberg O, Jackson JBC, Kleypas J, Lough JM, Marshall P, Nystrom N, Palumbi SR, Pandolfi JM, Rosen B, Roughgarden J (2003) Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs. Science 301:929–933

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Jonker M, Johns K, Osborne K (2008) Surveys of benthic reef communities using underwater digital photography and counts of juvenile corals. Australian Institute of Marine Science SOP 10. Townsville, Australia, p 85

    Google Scholar 

  • Little AF, van Oppen MJH, Willis BL (2004) Flexibility in algal endosymbiosis shape growth in reef corals. Science 304:1492–1494

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Loya Y, Sakai K, Yamazato Y, Nakano H, Sambali H, van Woesik R (2001) Coral bleaching: the winners and the losers. Ecol Lett 4:122–131

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marshall PA, Baird AH (2000) Bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef: differential susceptibilities among taxa. Coral Reefs 19:155–163

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McClanahan TR (2004) The relationship between bleaching and mortality of common corals. Mar Biol 144:1239–1245

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mumby PJ (1999) Bleaching and hurricane disturbances to populations of coral recruits in Belize. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 190:27–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nakamura T, van Woesik R (2001) Water-flow rates and passive diffusion partially explain differential survival of corals during the 1998 bleaching event. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 212:301–304

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pandolfi JM, Bradbury RH, Sala E, Hughes TP, Bjorndal KA, Cooke RG, McArdle D, McClenachan L, Newman MJH, Pareded G, Warner RR, Jackson JBC (2003) Global trajectories of the long-term decline of coral reef ecosystems. Science 301:955–958

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Pearce A, Lenanton R, Jackson G, Moore J, Feng M, Gaughan D (2011) The “marine heat wave” off Western Australia during the summer of 2010/11. Fisheries research report no. 222. Department of Fisheries, Western Australia, p 40

    Google Scholar 

  • Salih A, Larkum A, Cox G, Kuhl M, Hoegh-Guldberg O (2000) Fluorescent pigments in corals are photoreceptive. Nature 408:850–853

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Smith LD, Gilmour JP, Heyward AJ (2008) Resilience of coral communities on an isolated system of reefs following catastrophic mass-bleaching. Coral Reefs 27:197–205

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thomson DP, Bearham D, Graham F, Eagle JV (2011) High latitude, deep water coral bleaching at Rottnest Island. Western Australia. Coral Reefs 30:1107

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Twiggs EJ, Collins LB (2010) Development and demise of a fringing coral reef during Holocene environmental change, eastern Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. Mar Geol 275:20–36

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • van Woesik R, Sakai K, Ganase A, Loya Y (2011) Revisiting the winners and the losers a decade after coral bleaching. Mar Ecol Prog Ser: 67–76

  • Wernberg T, Smale DA, Tuya F, Thomsen MS, Langlois TJ, de Bettignies T, Bennett S, Rousseaux CS (2012) An extreme climatic event alters marine ecosystem structure in a global biodiversity hotspot. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful to the Western Australian Marine Science Institution for funding, Department of Environment and Conservation Exmouth regional staff for field logistics and our reviewers and editors.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. Depczynski.

Additional information

Communicated by Ecology Editor Prof. Mark Hay

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 14 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Depczynski, M., Gilmour, J.P., Ridgway, T. et al. Bleaching, coral mortality and subsequent survivorship on a West Australian fringing reef. Coral Reefs 32, 233–238 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: