, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 446–455 | Cite as

Black Disease (Terpios hoshinota): A Probable Cause for the Rapid Coral Mortality at the Northern Reef of Yongxing Island in the South China Sea

  • Qi Shi
  • Guo Hui Liu
  • Hong Qiang Yan
  • Hui Ling Zhang


The northern reef of Yongxing Island, the largest reef island of the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea, was in good condition with significant cover of scleractinian corals until 2002. Surveys in 2008 and 2010, however, found that coral coverage had declined rapidly and severely, implying that catastrophic coral mortality occurred during the past 8 years. A blackish mat was observed covering live and dead corals in both 2008 and 2010 that was identified as an encrusting sponge, Terpios hoshinota, by special surface morphology and spicule structure. In addition, spicule residues were found on the surface of long-dead corals, indicating a previous invasion of T. hosinota. T. hoshinota is referred to as the “black disease” because it rapidly overgrows and kills corals. Our evidence indicates that outbreaks of black disease are at least partially responsible for the massive coral mortality at the northern reef of Yongxing Island over the past 8 years, although human activities and heat-related coral bleaching cannot be discounted as minor causes for this coral decline.


Coral mortality  Black disease Terpios hoshinota Human activities Coral bleaching Crown-of-thorns starfish South China Sea 



This study was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA05080300), Important Direction Project of Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KZCX2-YW-138), National Science Foundation of China (40830852 and 41025007), Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology projects (2007CB8015905 and 2006BAB19B03). We thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this study.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Qi Shi
    • 1
  • Guo Hui Liu
    • 1
  • Hong Qiang Yan
    • 1
  • Hui Ling Zhang
    • 1
  1. 1.CAS Key Laboratory of Marginal Sea GeologySouth China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China

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