Heat Waves Are a Major Threat to Turbid Coral Reefs in Brazil: Frontiers in Marine Science

G.A.S. Duarte, H.D.M. Villela, M. Deocleciano, D. Silva, A. Barno, P.M. Cardoso, C.L.S. Vilela, P. Rosado, C.S.M.A. Messias, M.A. Chacon, E.P. Santoro, D.B. Olmedo, M. Szpilman, L.A. Rocha, M. Sweet, R.S. Peixoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Coral reefs are threatened by climate change on a global scale with thermal stress events and mass coral bleaching being widely reported. The reefs off the east coast of Brazil (and other turbid areas) have, however, historically escaped such thermal stress events, with relatively low levels of background coral mortality (5–10%). This has recently changed. Here we show that, in 2019, degree heating weeks (DHW) of 19.65 coincided with catastrophic declines in coral cover, especially in the major reef building hydrocoral Millepora alcicornis. The decline was due to bleaching associated with exposure to high temperature stress culminating in DHW values exceeding 15 for a period of 50 days. At two independent sites, surveys showed upwards of 83.5 ± 9.0 and 89.1 ± 3.9% mortality, and a third site showed relatively lower (albeit still high) mortality rates of 43.3 ± 12.0%. The mass die-off in 2019 is unprecedented in the South Atlantic reefs and coincides with increased heating events. © Copyright © 2020 Duarte, Villela, Deocleciano, Silva, Barno, Cardoso, Vilela, Rosado, Messias, Chacon, Santoro, Olmedo, Szpilman, Rocha, Sweet and Peixoto.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
StatePublished - Mar 30 2020

Bibliographical note

Cited By :13

Export Date: 5 May 2021

Correspondence Address: Peixoto, R.S.; Institute of Microbiology, Brazil; email: raquelpeixoto@micro.ufrj.br

Funding details: National Council for Higher Education

Funding details: Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, CAPES

Funding details: Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, CNPq

Funding details: Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ

Funding text 1: GD, RP, HV, and MS: study conception and design. GD and MD: conducting field work. All authors: analyses and data interpretation and involved in critical revision. HV, RP, and GD: drafting of the manuscript. RP and MS: provided financial support.

Funding text 2: We would like to thank Dande Deocleciano, Pinho Deocleciano, and Valdeir Bonfim for their support during field work. Without all the support of the local community of Corumbau, Brazil, this work would not be possible. We would also like thank the Graduate Programs of Science (Microbiology) and Vegetal Biotechnology and Bioprocess Engineering (PBV)/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the National Council for the Improvement of Higher Education (CAPES), and the Rio de Janeiro Marine Aquarium (AquaRio) research center for their support.

References: Amaral, F., Steiner, A., Broadhurst, M., Cairns, S., An overview of the shallow-water calcified hydroids from Brazil (Hydrozoa: Cnidaria), Including the description of a new species (2008) Zootaxa, 1930, pp. 56-68; Anthony, K.R.N., Fabricius, K.E., Shifting roles of heterotrophy and autotrophy in coral energetics under varying turbidity (2000) J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol, 252, pp. 221-253. , 10967335; Banha, T.N.S., Capel, K.C.C., Kitahara, M.V., Francini-Filho, R.B., Francini, C.L.B., Sumida, P.Y.G., Low coral mortality during the most intense bleaching event ever recorded in subtropical Southwestern Atlantic reefs (2019) Coral Reefs; Burke, L., Reytar, K., Spalding, M.D., Perry, A., (2011) Reefs at RISK REVISited, , Washington, DC, World Resources Institute; Cacciapaglia, C., van Woesik, R., Reef-coral refugia in a rapidly changing ocean (2015) Glob. Chang. Biol, 21, pp. 2272-2282. , 25646684; Calderon, E.N., Zilberberg, C., Castro, C.B.E., Farming of the fire-coral M illepora alcicornis for reef restoration purposes: the influence of inclination on growth (2015) Aquac. Res, 46, pp. 2034-2036; Coni, E.O.C., Ferreira, C.M., de Moura, R.L., Meirelles, P.M., Kaufman, L., Francini-Filho, R.B., An evaluation of the use of branching fire-corals (Millepora spp.) as refuge by reef fish in the Abrolhos Bank, eastern Brazil (2013) Environ. Biol. Fishes, 96, pp. 45-55; Costa, O.S., Jr., Anthropogenic nutrient pollution of coral reefs in Southern Bahia, Brazil (2007) Braz. J. Oceanogr, 55, pp. 265-279; Côté, I.M., Darling, E.S., Rethinking ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change (2010) PLoS Biol, 8 (e1000438). , 20668536; De’ath, G., Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes (2012) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A, 109, pp. 17995-17999. , 23027961; Donner, S.D., Skirving, W.J., Little, C.M., Oppenheimer, M., Hoegh-Gulberg, O., Global assessment of coral bleaching and required rates of adaptation under climate change (2005) Glob. Chang. Biol, 11, pp. 2251-2265; Escobar, H., Mystery oil spill threatens marine sanctuary in Brazil (2019) Science, 366 (672). , 31699913; Guest, J.R., Edmunds, P.J., Gates, R.D., Kuffner, I.B., Andersson, A.J., Barnes, B.B., A framework for identifying and characterising coral reef “oases” against a backdrop of degradation (2018) J. Appl. Ecol, 55, pp. 2865-2875; Hill, J., Wilkinson, C., (2004) Methods for Ecological Monitoring of Coral Reefs, , Townsville, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Hughes, T.P., Anderson, K.D., Connolly, S.R., Heron, S.F., Kerry, J.T., Lough, J.M., Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene (2018) Science, 359, pp. 80-83. , 29302011; Hughes, T.P., Kerry, J.T., Álvarez-Noriega, M., Álvarez-Romero, J.G., Anderson, K.D., Baird, A.H., Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals (2017) Nature, 543, pp. 373-377. , 28300113; Kayanne, H., Validation of degree heating weeks as a coral bleaching index in the northwestern Pacific (2017) Coral Reefs, 36, pp. 63-70; Kohler, K.E., Gill, S.M., Coral Point Count with Excel extensions (CPCe): a Visual Basic program for the determination of coral and substrate coverage using random point count methodology (2006) Comput. Geosci, 32, pp. 1259-1269; Le Nohaïc, M., Ross, C.L., Cornwall, C.E., Comeau, S., Lowe, R., McCulloch, M.T., Marine heatwave causes unprecedented regional mass bleaching of thermally resistant corals in northwestern Australia (2017) Sci. Rep, 7 (14999). , 29101362; Leão, Z.M.D.A.N., Kikuchi, R.K.P., Oliveira, M.D.M., Branqueamento de corais nos recifes da Bahia e sua relação com eventos de anomalias térmicas nas águas superficiais do oceano (2008) Biota Neotrop, 8, pp. 069-082; Leão, Z.M.D.A.N., Kikuchi, R.K.P., Testa, V., Corals and coral reefs of Brazil (2003) Latin American Coral Reefs, pp. 9-52. , Cortés J., (ed), Amsterdam, Elsevier; Miranda, R.J., Cruz, I.C.S., Leão, Z., Coral bleaching in the Caramuanas reef (Todos os Santos Bay, Brazil) during the 2010 El Niño event (2013) Lat. Am. Aquat. Res, 41, pp. 351-360; (2004) Instrução Normativa n° 5, de 21 de maio de 2004, , Brasília, Consulex; (2014) Portaria n° 445, de 17 de dezembro de 2014, , Brasília, Consulex; Morgan, K.M., Perry, C.T., Johnson, J.A., Smithers, S.G., Nearshore turbid-zone corals exhibit high bleaching tolerance on the Great Barrier Reef following the 2016 ocean warming event (2017) Front. Mar. Sci, 4 (224); Morgan, K.M., Perry, C.T., Smithers, S.G., Johnson, J.A., Daniell, J.J., Evidence of extensive reef development and high coral cover in nearshore environments: implications for understanding coral adaptation in turbid settings (2016) Sci. Rep, 6 (29616). , 27432782; (2019) A Research Review of Interventions to Increase the Persistence and Resilience of Coral Reefs, , Washington, DC, The National Academies Press; Ogle, D.H., Wheeler, P., Dinno, A., (2019) FSA: Fisheries Stock Analysis. R package version 0.8.25, , https://github.com/droglenc/FSA, (accessed November 25, 2019), Available online at; Oksanen, J., Blanchet, G., Friendly, M., Kindt, R., Legendre, P., McGlinn, D., (2019) Vegan: Community Ecology Package (R Package Version 2.5-5), , https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=vegan, (accessed November 25, 2019), Available online at; Oliveira, M.D.M., Kikuchi, R.K.P., Leão, Z.M.D.A.N., Cultivo de Millepora alcicornis como uma ferramenta para Restauração e Manejo dos Ecossistemas Recifais do (2008) Nord. Brasil, 8, pp. 183-201; Paulay, C., (1997) Life and Death of Coral Reefs, pp. 298-353. , New York, NY, Chapman and Hall; Peixoto, R., Rosado, P.M., Leite, D.C., de, A., Rosado, A.S., Bourne, D.G., Beneficial Microorganisms for Corals (BMC): proposed Mechanisms for Coral Health and Resilience (2017) Front. Microbiol, 8 (341). , 28326066; Perry, C.T., Murphy, G.N., Kench, P.S., Smithers, S.G., Edinger, E.N., Steneck, R.S., Caribbean-wide decline in carbonate production threatens coral reef growth (2013) Nat. Commun, 4 (1402). , 23360993; (2017) R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing, , https://www.R-project.org, Vienna, R Foundation for Statistical Computing, (accessed November 25, 2019), :, Available online at; Rogers, A., Blanchard, J.L., Mumby, P.J., Vulnerability of coral reef fisheries to a loss of structural complexity (2014) Curr. Biol, 24, pp. 1000-1005. , 24746794; Rosado, P., Leite, D.C.A., Duarte, G.A.S., Chaloub, R.M., Jospin, G., Nunes da Rocha, U., Marine probiotics: increasing coral resistance to bleaching through microbiome manipulation (2019) ISME J, 13, pp. 921-936. , 30518818; Santos, H., Carmo, F.L., Duarte, G., Dini-Andreote, F., Castro, C.B., Rosado, A.S., Climate change affects key nitrogen-fixing bacterial populations on coral reefs (2014) ISME J, 8 (2272). , 24830827; Skirving, W.J., Heron, S.F., Marsh, B.L., Liu, G., De La Cour, J.L., Geiger, E.F., The relentless march of mass coral bleaching: a global perspective of changing heat stress (2019) Coral Reefs, 38, pp. 547-557; Teixeira, C.D., Leitão, R.L.L., Ribeiro, F.V., Moraes, F.C., Neves, L.M., Bastos, A.C., Sustained mass coral bleaching (2016–2017) in Brazilian turbid-zone reefs: taxonomic, cross-shelf and habitat-related trends (2019) Coral Reefs, 38, pp. 801-813


  • coral mortality
  • coral reefs
  • global warming
  • mass bleaching
  • Millepora alcicornis
  • turbid reefs


Dive into the research topics of 'Heat Waves Are a Major Threat to Turbid Coral Reefs in Brazil: Frontiers in Marine Science'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this