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Free Content Coral bleaching and mortality in the Mexican Pacific during the 1997–98 El Niño and prediction from a remote sensing approach

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A coral reef monitoring program was initiated at Bahía Banderas (21°N,105°W), on the Pacific coast of Mexico, on January 1997, several months before the onset of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event of 1997–98. Live coral cover, sea surface temperature (SST) and salinity were monitored during 1997–98, in conjunction with 'hot spot' satellite bleaching predictions of NOAA's NESDIS. Coral reef bleaching during the 1997–98 El Niño at Bahía Banderas coincided closely with satellite bleaching predictions and with experimental observations on coral tolerance to thermal stress. The initial bleaching event rapidly evolved into an unprecedented massive coral mortality (96%), equivalent to the catastrophic coral mortalities observed in the Galápagos Islands during the 1982–83 ENSO. The sudden mass bleaching and mortality of corals at Bahía Banderas was most likely caused by the marked accelerated warming rate (+3.5°C mo−1), an order of magnitude higher than that observed during the 1982–83 El Niño in the Galápagos Islands (+0.35°C mo−1). Also, the SST anomaly observed during the 1997–98 ENSO at Bahía Banderas (+6.1°C) was 30% higher than in 1982–83 in the Galápagos area (+4.5°C). The recovery of the Bahía Banderas coral reefs is uncertain since the dead coral substrate has already been covered with filamentous fleshy algae. In contrast to the long-lasting existence of corals and coral reefs in the region, reef frameworks are typically very thin. This situation may indicate the frequent recurrence of mortality events due to environmental extremes, such as ENSO, that have limited reef development in the northeastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 July 2001

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