Coral mortality and disturbances to coral reefs in the tropical eastern Pacific

P. W. Glynn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

138 Scopus citations


Widespread bleaching and mortality of reef-building corals occurred in the tropical eastern Pacific region during the several and prolonged El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event of 1982-83. At the height of the 10 month sea warming period, Panamanian reefs experienced 2-3 bouts of coral bleaching (loss of symbiotic zooxanthellae), which resulted in coral death 2-4 wk later. Coral reefs in Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia suffered up to 70-90% coral mortality; in the Galapagos Islands most coral reefs experienced >95% mortality. Zooxanthellate corals were affected most severely in nearly all reef areas, however, other organisms (eg benthic algae, non-zooxanthellate scleractinian corals, black corals, molluscs, barnacles, and crustacean symbiotes of corals) often showed local negative responses associated with non-thermal, El Nino-related conditions (eg nutrient depletion, low plankton abundance, high sea level, and wave assault). Secondary disturbances included elimination of coral barriers, allowing the corallivore Acanthaster planci access to formerly protected coral prey; increased external bioerosion of reef surfaces killed in 1983 because of post-El Nino increases in sea urchin densities; and establishment of damselfish territories on corals that experienced partial mortality in 1983. -from Author

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal ecological consequences of the 1982-83 El Nino-Southern Oscillation
EditorsP.W. Glynn
PublisherElsevier; Oceanography Series, 52
Number of pages72
StatePublished - Dec 1 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)


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