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Severe 2010 Cold-Water Event Caused Unprecedented Mortality to Corals of the Florida Reef Tract and Reversed Previous Survivorship Patterns
  • Diego Lirman, University of Miami
  • Stephanie Schopmeyer, University of Miami
  • Derek Manzello, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Lewis J. Gramer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • William F. Precht, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Frank E. Muller-Karger, University of South Florida
  • Kenneth Banks, Broward County Natural Resources Planning and Management Division
  • Brian Barnes, University of South Florida
  • Erich Bartels, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Amanda Bourque, Biscayne National Park
  • James Byrne, The Nature Conservancy - Florida
  • Scott Donahue, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Janice Duquesnel, Florida Park Service
  • Louis Fisher, Broward County Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department
  • David S. Gilliam, Nova Southeastern University
  • James C. Hendee, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Meaghan E. Johnson, The Nature Conservancy - Florida
  • Kerry Maxwell, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Erin McDevitt, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Jamie Monty, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
  • Digna Rueda, University of South Florida
  • Rob Ruzicka, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
  • Sara Thanner, Department of Environmental Resources Management
Document Type
Publication Date
  • Coral reefs,
  • Corals,
  • Bleaching,
  • Florida,
  • Death rates,
  • Habitats,
  • Ocean temperature,
  • Climate change


Coral reefs are facing increasing pressure from natural and anthropogenic stressors that have already caused significant worldwide declines. In January 2010, coral reefs of Florida, United States, were impacted by an extreme cold-water anomaly that exposed corals to temperatures well below their reported thresholds (16°C), causing rapid coral mortality unprecedented in spatial extent and severity.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Reef surveys were conducted from Martin County to the Lower Florida Keys within weeks of the anomaly. The impacts recorded were catastrophic and exceeded those of any previous disturbances in the region. Coral mortality patterns were directly correlated to in-situ and satellite-derived cold-temperature metrics. These impacts rival, in spatial extent and intensity, the impacts of the well-publicized warm-water bleaching events around the globe. The mean percent coral mortality recorded for all species and subregions was 11.5% in the 2010 winter, compared to 0.5% recorded in the previous five summers, including years like 2005 where warm-water bleaching was prevalent. Highest mean mortality (15%–39%) was documented for inshore habitats where temperatures were <11°C for prolonged periods. Increases in mortality from previous years were significant for 21 of 25 coral species, and were 1–2 orders of magnitude higher for most species.


The cold-water anomaly of January 2010 caused the worst coral mortality on record for the Florida Reef Tract, highlighting the potential catastrophic impacts that unusual but extreme climatic events can have on the persistence of coral reefs. Moreover, habitats and species most severely affected were those found in high-coral cover, inshore, shallow reef habitats previously considered the “oases” of the region, having escaped declining patterns observed for more offshore habitats. Thus, the 2010 cold-water anomaly not only caused widespread coral mortality but also reversed prior resistance and resilience patterns that will take decades to recover.


This is an open-access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

Citation Information
Diego Lirman, Stephanie Schopmeyer, Derek Manzello, Lewis J. Gramer, et al.. "Severe 2010 Cold-Water Event Caused Unprecedented Mortality to Corals of the Florida Reef Tract and Reversed Previous Survivorship Patterns" PLoS ONE Vol. 6 Iss. 8 (2011) p. 1 e23047 - 10 ISSN: 1932-6203
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