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Mapped Coral Mortality and Refugia in an Archipelago-Scale Marine Heat Wave

May 02, 2022

Highlighting the role that coral mortality mapping, rather than bleaching monitoring, can play for targeted conservation that protects more surviving corals in our changing climate.

Corals exhibit highly variable responses to marine heat waves as well as to local biological and ecological circumstances that moderate them across reef seascapes. This variability makes identifying refugia—reefs possessing conditions that increase coral resilience—nearly impossible with traditional surveys. We developed and applied an airborne coral mortality mapping approach to identify reef refugia in a major marine heat wave across the Hawaiian Islands. A combination of human and environmental factors, including reduced coastal development and lower sedimentation levels, advantaged the majority of refugia over neighboring reefs. High-resolution monitoring of coral mortality reveals a reef geography of both resilience and vulnerability to climate change.

Asner GP, Vaughn NR, Martin RE, Foo SA, Heckler J, Neilson BJ, Gove JM. 2022. Mapped coral mortality and refugia in an archipelago-scale marine heat wave. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol 119: e2123331119.  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2123331119.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on 10/12/2022

Marine Heatwave