Skip to main content

Coral reef annihilation, persistence and recovery at Earth’s youngest volcanic island

Abstract

The structure and function of coral reef ecosystems is increasingly compromised by multiple stressors, even in the most remote locations. Severe, acute disturbances such as volcanic eruptions represent extreme events that can annihilate entire reef ecosystems, but also provide unique opportunities to examine ecosystem resilience and recovery. Here, we examine the destruction, persistence and initial recovery of reefs associated with the hydro-magmatic eruption that created Earth’s newest landmass, the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Ha’apai volcanic island. Despite extreme conditions associated with the eruption, impacts on nearby reefs were spatially variable. Importantly, even heavily affected reefs showed signs of rapid recovery driven by high recruitment, likely from local refuges. The remote location and corresponding lack of additional stressors likely contribute to the resilience of Hunga’s reefs, suggesting that in the absence of chronic anthropogenic stressors, coral reefs can be resilient to one of the largest physical disturbances on Earth.

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

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank Whale Discoveries, Jason Sheehan and Chancey MacDonald for field support and Robert Pressey for funding. This work was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies and the National Geographic Society.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to P. F. Smallhorn-West.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Communicated by Editor Morgan S. Pratchett

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1177 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Smallhorn-West, P.F., Garvin, J.B., Slayback, D.A. et al. Coral reef annihilation, persistence and recovery at Earth’s youngest volcanic island. Coral Reefs 39, 529–536 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-019-01868-8

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-019-01868-8

Keywords

  • Refuge population
  • Ecosystem resilience
  • Coral reef
  • Volcanic eruption
  • Reef recovery