Caribbean corals in crisis: Record thermal stress, bleaching, and mortality in 2005


C. Mark Eakin, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Jessica A. Morgan, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Scott F. Heron, ReefSense
Tyler B. Smith, University of the Virgin Islands
Gang Liu, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Lorenzo Alvarez-Filip, University of East Anglia
Bart Baca, CSA South, Inc.
Erich Bartels, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Carolina Bastidas, Universidad Simón Bolívar
Claude Bouchon, Laboratoire de Biologie Marine, Universitédes Antilles et de la Guyane
Marilyn Brandt, University of the Virgin Islands
Andrew W. Bruckner, Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation
Lucy Bunkley-Williams, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez
Andrew Cameron, Global Vision International
Billy D. Causey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Mark Chiappone, University of North Florida
Tyler R.L. Christensen, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
M. James C. Crabbe, University of Bedfordshire
Owen Day, Buccoo Reef Trust
Elena de la Guardia, Universidad de La Habana
Guillermo Díaz-Pulido, Universidad del Magdalena
Daniel DiResta, University of Miami
Diego L. Gil-Agudelo, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras José Benito Vives de Andréis
David S. Gilliam, Nova Southeastern University
Robert N. Ginsburg, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Shannon Gore, Conservation and Fisheries Department
Héctor M. Guzmán, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
James C. Hendee, NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory
Edwin A. Hernández-Delgado, Universidad de Puerto Rico
Ellen Husain, University of Exeter
Christopher F.G. Jeffrey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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Background: The rising temperature of the world's oceans has become a major threat to coral reefs globally as the severity and frequency of mass coral bleaching and mortality events increase. In 2005, high ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean resulted in the most severe bleaching event ever recorded in the basin. Methodology/Principal Findings: Satellite-based tools provided warnings for coral reef managers and scientists, guiding both the iming and location of researchers' field observations as anomalously warm conditions developed and spread across the greater Caribbean region from June to October 2005. Field surveys of bleaching and mortality exceeded prior efforts in detail and extent, and provided a new standard for documenting the effects of bleaching and for testing nowcast and forecast products. Collaborators from 22 countries undertook the most comprehensive documentation of basin-scale bleaching to date and found that over 80% of corals bleached and over 40% died at many sites. The most severe bleaching coincided with waters nearest a western Atlantic warm pool that was centered off the northern end of the Lesser Antilles. Conclusions/Significance: Thermal stress during the 2005 event exceeded any observed from the Caribbean in the prior 20 years, and regionally-averaged temperatures were the warmest in over 150 years. Comparison of satellite data against field surveys demonstrated a significant predictive relationship between accumulated heat stress (measured using NOAA Coral Reef Watch's Degree Heating Weeks) and bleaching intensity. This severe, widespread bleaching and mortality will undoubtedly have long-term consequences for reef ecosystems and suggests a troubled future for tropical marine ecosystems under a warming climate.

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