Unprecedented bleaching-induced mortality in Porites spp. at Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia Academic Article uri icon


  • In April-May 1998, mass coral bleaching was observed in the lagoon of Rangiroa Atoll, Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia. Six months later, the extent of bleaching-induced coral mortality was assessed at three sites. Corals in the fast-growing genus Pocillopora had experienced > 99% mortality. Many large colonies of the slow-growing genus Porites (mean horizontal cross-sectional area 5.8 m2) had also died - a phenomenon not previously observed in French Polynesia and virtually unprecedented world-wide. At one site, 25% of colonies, or 44% of the pre-bleaching cover of living Porites, experienced whole-colony mortality. At the two other sites, recently dead Porites accounted for 41% and 82% of the pre-bleaching live cover. Mortality in Porites was negatively correlated with depth between 1.5 and 5 m. Using a 50-year dataset of mean monthly sea surface temperature (SST), derived from ship- and satellite-borne instruments, we show that bleaching occurred during a period of exceptionally high summer SST. 1998 was the first year in which mean monthly SSTs exceeded the 1961-1990 upper 95% confidence limit (29.4C) for a period of three consecutive months. We suggest that the sustained 3-month anomaly in local summer SST was a major cause of coral mortality, but do not discount the synergistic effect of solar radiation. Recovery of the size-frequency distribution of Porites colonies to pre-bleaching levels may take at least 100 years.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Mumby, P. J., Chisholm, J., Edwards, A. J., Clark, C. D., Roark, E. B., Andrefouet, S., & Jaubert, J.

citation count

  • 75

complete list of authors

  • Mumby, PJ||Chisholm, JRM||Edwards, AJ||Clark, CD||Roark, EB||Andrefouet, S||Jaubert, J

publication date

  • January 2001