Underwater effects on coral reefs of the six hurricanes which ravaged French Polynesia between December 82 and April 83 were observed by SCUBA diving around high islands and atolls during September and October 1983. Special attention was paid to Tikehau atoll reef formations (Tuamotu archipelago) where quantitative studies on scleractinians, cryptofauna and fishes were conducted in 1982 immediatly prior to the hurricanes. On outer reef slopes coral destruction, varying from 50 to 100%, was a function of depth. Upper slope coral communities composed of small colonies well adapted to high energy level environments, suffered less than deeper formations. However, there is a narrow erosional trough in this zone at a depth of 6 m that was probably the result of storm-wave action (plunge point). Coral destruction was spectacular at depths greater than 12 m: 60 to 80% between 12 m and 30 m and 100% beyond 35 m, whereas earlier living coral coverage ranged from 60 to 75% in these zones. The outer slope was transformed into a scree zone covered with coarse sand and dead coral rubble. Dives on different sites around steep outer slopes (>45°) of the atolls and more gentle slopes (<25°) of some parts of the high islands permitted the formulation of an explanatory hypothesis: direct coral destruction by hurricane-induced waves occurred between the surface and 18–20 m; on low-angle slopes broken colonies were thrown up on reef flats and beaches; on steep slopes avalanches destroyed much of the living corals and left scree slopes of rubble and sand.
Scleractinia (Hard Corals)
SCUBA (open-circuit or unspecified)