Chronic anthropogenic impacts can have a negative effect on coral health and on coral energy budgets needed for regeneration of lesions. I therefore hypothesise that during massive bleaching events, the degree of corals showing bleaching-related tissue mortality is higher in areas subject to chronic anthropogenic impacts than in relatively pristine areas. In the present study, the degree of bleaching and bleaching-related tissue mortality was estimated for eight abundant coral species in Curaçao, at the onset of a massive Caribbean bleaching event in 1995, and three months afterwards. To study the possible effects of anthropogenic disturbances, the study was done at four unpolluted control sites, two polluted sites (sedimentation, sewage), and four sites at the mouth of lagoons with outflow of nutrient-rich, warm and turbid seawater. No pattern of an overall difference in bleaching between impacted and control sites was found for the degree of bleaching. However, the percentage of corals showing bleaching-related tissue mortality was higher at the impacted sites than at the control sites for the total number of corals and for corals with < 50% of their surface area bleached. Highest and most significant values of tissue mortality were found at a reef site experiencing chronic pollution by raw sewage. The data thus suggest that unfavourable conditions caused by anthropogenic influences, such as increased sedimentation, eutrophication and seawater temperature, have an additional negative effect on the tissue survival of coral colonies during bleaching episodes. Rev. Biol. Trop. 54 (Suppl. 3): 31-43. Epub 2007 Jan. 15.
Keywords: Stony corals, bleaching, tissue mortality, anthropogenic impacts, Caribbean