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Coral persistence despite extreme periodic pH fluctuations at a volcanically acidified Caribbean reef

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Naturally acidified environments, such as those caused by volcanic CO2 venting, reveal how complex coral reef ecosystems may respond to future ocean acidification conditions. Few of these sites have been described worldwide, and only a single such site is known from the Caribbean. Herein, we have characterized an area of volcanic acidification at Mayreau Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Despite localized CO2 enrichment and gas venting, the surrounding area has high hard and soft coral cover, as well as extensive carbonate frameworks. Twice daily extremes in acidification, in some cases leading to undersaturation of aragonite, are correlated with tidal fluctuations and are likely related to water flow. Corals persisting despite this periodic acidification can provide insights into mechanisms of resilience and the importance of natural pH variability on coral reefs.

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Funding was provided by NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. We are grateful for assistance with instrumentation provided by M. Jankulak and L. Dutra, for professional discussions with C Brown, and for L. Barbero’s comments on the manuscript. We thank R. Ryan, J. Cruickshank-Howard, C. Isaacs, C. Laborde, J. Seales, and S. Connell at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labour, as well as K. Williams, L. Noel, and B. Wilson at Tobago Cays Marine Park for their support of this research.

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Correspondence to I. C. Enochs.

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Figure S1

A: Volcanic gas bubbling in close proximity to coral colonies (locations S-R of Fig. 1). B: Dissolution of an aragonitic conch shell placed at vent site for < 1 year. The white arrow indicates a small Orbicella sp. colony growing next to the dissolving shell. This image was captured approximately 1 m north of location 1 in Fig. 1 (JPEG 1870 kb)

Figure S2

Calculated pH from seawater samples (grey dots; location 1 of Fig. 1) and high-frequency pH variability as measured by SeaFET pH logger (black dots; location 2 of Fig. 1). Sampling locations were separated by roughly 5 m (JPEG 1708 kb)

Figure S3

Seawater pH (total scale) at the Mayreau vent site and the co-occurrence with tidal fluctuations at the nearest accessible tidal station (Grenada; ~ 81 km distance). All pH data are smoothed using a 2-h running mean (JPEG 3399 kb)

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Enochs, I.C., Formel, N., Manzello, D. et al. Coral persistence despite extreme periodic pH fluctuations at a volcanically acidified Caribbean reef. Coral Reefs 39, 523–528 (2020).

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