Coral Bleach-Out In Belize

Precht, Bill Bprecht at
Thu May 11 10:38:47 EDT 2000

Please look before you leap:

Response to "Belize Reefs Not Dead Yet"

The paper in the May 4th issue of Nature by Aronson, Precht, Macintyre and
Murdoch details the mass mortality of corals in the central lagoon of the
Belizean Barrier Reef Complex. A significant area of about 375 sq. km.  The
reefs in this area are indeed 'dead'.  To be clear, we did not ascribe this
mass coral mortality to the entire Belize Shelf, the fore-reef side of the
Belizean Barrier Reef, or the offshore atolls like Glovers Reef (nor any
areas outside of Belize).  We did note that the Belizean Barrier Reef
suffered partial mortality, however, the lagoonal reefs did not fair so
well.  The reefs as described in the recent Nature article, are the
rhombohedral shoals that we have been studying for some time now. We would
love to have reported a story with a different punch line....unfortunately,
these reefs suffered 100% mortality of the dominant coral species, Agaricia
tenuifolia, at all depths from the surface down to over 20 meters.  Many
other subordinate coral species died as well. Dives on reefs in the southern
lagoon revealed a similar pattern of coral mortality, though these reefs
were not quantitatively monitored for this study.  Accordingly, these
southern reefs were not considered in our report (or in the 375 sq. km
area). It should be noted that the 'hot' SST plume observed by satellite
that caused the 1998 Belize bleaching event was strongest over the central
and southern portions of the Belize shelf (A. Strong,  Not
surprisingly, the most devastating effects of this bleaching event were
noted in these regions.

While I would agree that some reporters who picked up this news line may
have overstated the facts... the real truth remains that a large area of the
Belizean reef system died catastrophically from coral bleaching associated
with increased SST's in late 1998. 

I hope this clears any misunderstanding regarding which reefs we were
talking about.

We continue to monitor these reefs to see what the future brings...



William F. Precht
Ecological Sciences Program Manager

-----Original Message-----
From: John Ware [mailto:jware at]
Sent: Thursday, May 11, 2000 10:20 AM
To: Glover's Reef
Cc: coral-list at
Subject: Bay Islands reefs OK?

Dear Coral List,

Tom Bright recently stated that the rumors of the death of Belize reefs
may have been exaggerated and opined that the same might be true of the
Bay Islands of Honduras.  I have been monitoring a section of reef on
the island of Roatan for the past 10+ years.  This section was selected
based on the assumption of high human impact because of increasing
sediment loading due to on-shore construction near the site.

My last visit to this reef was in April of this year and, while I do not
have a complete analysis of the data, there has been no apparent
degradation of the reef in general nor any significant coral mortality
over the past 10 years, and certainly nothing in the last 2 years.

I am monitoring in a single location, but my superficial observations
over the past 15 years indicate the reefs around Roatan are holding up

If anyone has other observations on Roatan or the other Bay Islands, I
would like to hear from them.


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