Major coral bleaching events have occurred throughout the tropics during the last 25 yrs. Although many reefs in the Caribbean bleached repeatedly throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the reefs of Belize did not suffer a widespread bleaching event until the summer of 1995. At the time
of mass bleaching water temperature and solar radiation were elevated and wind speeds were low. In October–November 1995, 52% of corals surveyed were affected by bleaching, compared to only 7% in May 1996. No spatial trends were found, although some taxa had significantly different levels
of bleaching at different depths. A positive correlation was found between the relative abundance and the percent affected of different taxa, indicating that bleaching may act to increase diversity if mortality occurs. There was a significant difference in the extent of bleaching between corals
reported to host different clades of zooxanthellae. By May 1996, 25% of the originally bleached, tagged specimens experienced at least partial tissue mortality. It is estimated that approximately 10% of all coral colonies experienced some partial tissue mortality by May 1996 as a result of
this bleaching event. Such bleaching-induced partial tissue mortality may decrease the structural integrity of the reef framework and decrease the ecological competitiveness of corals and other symbiotic reef organisms.
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