Coral Responses to Recurring Disturbances on Saint-Leu Reef
Scopelitis, J., Andrefouet, S., Phinn, S., Chabanet, P., Naim, O., Tourrand, C. and Done, T. 2009. Changes of coral communities over 35 years: Integrating in situ and remote-sensing data on Saint-Leu Reef (la Reunion, Indian Ocean). Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 84: 342-352.
"Despite the multiple disturbance events," in the words of the six scientists, "the coral community distribution and composition in 2006 on Saint-Leu Reef did not display major differences compared to 1973." This pattern of recurrent recovery is truly remarkable, especially in light of the fact that "in the wake of cyclone Firinga, Saint-Leu Reef phase-shifted and became algae-dominated for a period of five years," and even more amazing when one is informed that following an unnamed cyclone of 27 January 1948, no corals survived.
Once again quoting the Australian and French researchers, their findings suggest "a high degree of coral resilience at the site, led by rapid recovery of compact branching corals," which demonstrates the amazing ability of earth's corals, in the words of the old Timex watch commercials, to take a licking and keep on ticking.
But maybe it's not amazing at all. Maybe that's the way all of earth's corals would behave, if they were not so burdened by the host of local assaults upon their watery environment that are produced by the local impacts of mankind's modern activities. Destructive cyclones and high temperature excursions have always been a part of the coral reef environment. The intensive activities of modern human societies have not. And it is these newer activities that likely provide the greatest threat to the health of earth's corals. Mitigate them significantly, and the world's coral reefs would likely successfully cope with the vagaries of nature.
Naim, O., Cuet, P. and Letourneur, Y. 1997. Experimental shift in benthic community structure. In: Final Proceedings of the 8th International Coral Reef Symposium. Panama, pp. 1873-1878.