Marked annual coral bleaching resilience of an inshore patch reef in the Florida Keys: A nugget of hope, aberrance, or last man standing?

Brooke E. Gintert, Derek P. Manzello, Ian C. Enochs, Graham Kolodziej, Renée Carlton, Arthur C.R. Gleason, Nuno Gracias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Annual coral bleaching events, which are predicted to occur as early as the next decade in the Florida Keys, are expected to cause catastrophic coral mortality. Despite this, there is little field data on how Caribbean coral communities respond to annual thermal stress events. At Cheeca Rocks, an inshore patch reef near Islamorada, FL, the condition of 4234 coral colonies was followed over 2 yr of subsequent bleaching in 2014 and 2015, the two hottest summers on record for the Florida Keys. In 2014, this site experienced 7.7 degree heating weeks (DHW) and as a result 38.0% of corals bleached and an additional 36.6% were pale or partially bleached. In situ temperatures in summer of 2015 were even warmer, with the site experiencing 9.5 DHW. Despite the increased thermal stress in 2015, only 12.1% of corals were bleached in 2015, which was 3.1 times less than 2014. Partial mortality dropped from 17.6% of surveyed corals to 4.3% between 2014 and 2015, and total colony mortality declined from 3.4 to 1.9% between years. Total colony mortality was low over both years of coral bleaching with 94.7% of colonies surviving from 2014 to 2016. The reduction in bleaching severity and coral mortality associated with a second stronger thermal anomaly provides evidence that the response of Caribbean coral communities to annual bleaching is not strictly temperature dose dependent and that acclimatization responses may be possible even with short recovery periods. Whether the results from Cheeca Rocks represent an aberration or a true resilience potential is the subject of ongoing research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-547
Number of pages15
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Acclimatization
  • Caribbean coral community
  • Cheeca Rocks
  • Degree heating weeks
  • Landscape mosaic
  • Sea temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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