Scleractinian corals and their symbiotic dinoflagellate algae build massive, wave-resistant coral reefs that are pre-eminent in shallow tropical seas. This mutualism is especially sensitive to numerous environmental stresses, and has been disrupted frequently during the past decade. Increased seawater temperatures have been proposed as the most likely cause of coral reef bleaching, and it has been suggested that the recent large-scale disturbances are the first biological indication of global warming. This article describes recent bleaching events and their possible link with sea warming and other environmental stresses, and offers some speculation on the fate of coral reefs if the Earth enters a sustained period of warming.
Copyright © 1991. Published by Elsevier Ltd.