Bleaching of reef coelenterates in the San Blas Islands, Panama

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Starting in June 1983, 25 species of hermatypic corals, gorgonians, hydrocorals, anemones and zoanthids in the San Blas Islands, Panama, began showing signs of a loss of colour leading in some cases to a white "bleached" appearance. Histologic examination of six coral species indicated that bleaching was associated with drastic reductions in the density of zooxanthellae and with the atrophy and necrosis of the animal tissue. The severity of the bleaching varied among species and many species were unaffected. The species most extensively affected were: Agaricia spp., which became completely bleached and frequently died; Montastraea annularis which bleached and continued to survive; and Millepora spp. which bleached white but quickly regained their colouration. Shallow reefs dominated by Agaricia spp. suffered the most extensive bleaching. At one site, Pico Feo, 99% of the Agaricia (32% of the living cover) was bleached. On fore reers, which were dominated by Agaricia spp. and M. annularis, the proportion of M. annularis bleached ranged from 18 to 100% and that of Agaricia spp. from 30 to 53%. Transects at Sail Rock and House Reef were surveyed in August 1983 and January 1984. At those sites, 53% of the Agaricia cover died between August and January. The remaining living cover of Agaricia and of all other species exhibited normal colouration in January. Salinity and temperature were monitored every second day at 4 m depth between May 10 and August 28, 1983 at one of the localities. Bleaching was first observed within two weeks of a 2 °C rise in temperature which occurred in late May 1983. Temperatures remained at or above 31.5 °C for the following 3 weeks and were at or above 30 °C for an additional 4 weeks. The bleaching of corals in the San Blas was most likely due to those elevanted temperatures. © 1984 Springer-Verlag.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Coral Reefs