TERRAPUB Journal of Oceanography

Journal of Oceanography, Vol. 63 (No. 1), pp. 149-154, 2007

Short Contribution

The Transition Zone Chlorophyll Front can Trigger Acanthaster planci Outbreaks in the Pacific Ocean: Historical Confirmation

Peter Houk1,2*, Steven Bograd3 and Robert van Woesik2

1CNMI Division of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 501304, Saipan, MP 96950, U.S.A.
2Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology, 150 W University Blvd., Melbourne, FL 32935, U.S.A.
3NOAA, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Environmental Research Division, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, U.S.A.

(Received 30 June 2006; in revised form 5 September 2006; accepted 6 September 2006)

Abstract: We hypothesize that the North Pacific transition zone chlorophyll front (TZCF) can episodically deliver enhanced phytoplankton levels that are linked to the emergence of adult populations of the coral eating starfish Acanthaster planci. In some years, the seasonally migrating TZCF bathes the northwest Hawaiian Islands with chlorophyll-a rich waters during the winter months that coincide with peak starfish spawning and provide ideal conditions for A. planci larval survival. We found significant relationships between starfish populations in the North Pacific and the southernmost latitude of the TZCF, chlorophyll-a concentrations, sea surface temperature, and Ekman transport indices since 1967. We propose that TZCF-triggered primary outbreaks are followed by secondary outbreaks throughout the region, in accordance with the surface currents and separated by a sequential time lag. Our historical confirmation suggests outbreaks are predictable, which has immediate coral reef conservation and management consequences.

*Corresponding author E-mail: peterhouk@deq.gov.mp

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