Coral Spawning in the Maldives

Coral spawning Acropora plantaginea Reefscapers Maldives

Reefscapers Coral Spawning Reports, 2013 onwards

Reef-building corals can reproduce both asexually (via fragmentation) and sexually (via ‘brooding’ or ‘broadcast’). Hermaphroditic broadcast coral species (such as the Acroporidae) reproduce by releasing bundles of gametes (eggs and sperm). These bundles contain fatty lipids and are therefore buoyant, allowing them to travel to the surface of the water column where fertilisation takes place.

This spawning cycle is one of nature’s most spectacular events and only occurs once or twice each year, on cues from water temperature, wind speed and the lunar cycle. A rapid increase in water temperature has been shown as a predictor in coral spawning as it helps mature gametes. Wind speed, notably low wind speed, has also been shown as an indicator to optimise fertilisation.

Coral species are sessile organisms that must synchronise their gamete release to increase chances of fertilisation (gametes only survive for a few hours). Mature colonies develop gametes within their tissues over several months in a process known as gametogenesis, a timely process that utilises a substantial amount of energy and is likely why they only spawn once a year.

This phenomenon has been well-documented around the world (Australia, the Caribbean), however, there is little documentation from the Maldives about species-specific spawning and time of year. It is imperative that we begin to understand synchrony and timing of spawning here in the Maldives, with important implications for the management of coral reef ecosystems and identifying the health of reefs.

Insights into Coral Spawning Patterns on Maldivian Reef Ecosystems

Coral reproductions - stages of broadcast spawning

These preliminary findings may be subject to change. None should be cited without prior written permission from the authors.


Understanding coral reproduction timings is crucial to expand our knowledge of populations and communities, particularly through recruitment rates and ecosystem connectivity, with important implications on coral reef management and conservation.
Little research has been published on coral spawning synchronicity in the Maldives, despite being the world’s seventh largest reef ecosystem (3% of global reefs). This hinders our understanding of coral reproductive biology at a regional scale, and limits our ability to assess shifts in reproductive phenology over time.

Method & Results

We examined baseline environmental cues, spawning patterns, timings and gametogenic cycles of Acroporidae in naturally occurring wild colonies and asexually propagated restored colonies. We analysed shallow water reefs across Landaa Giraavaru (Baa Atoll) and Kuda Huraa (Kaafu Atoll), and partnered with our colleagues at Sheraton Full Moon (Kaafu Atoll).

Differences in tide height across 4 days in November 2021, with time of spawning overlayed for 3 species of Acroporidae in Baa atoll.

Reefscapers corals spawning Maldives tides

The differences in the day of species spawning is (highly) significant between atolls in both Spring and Autumn. For both seasons, Kaafu Atoll spawns before Baa Atoll, due to different environmental conditions at each latitude: low tide, wind speed, and tidal depth.

Spawning in Kaafu and Baa Atolls – the number of coral colonies per species:

Reefscapers coral spawning Maldives Marine Savers results

During Autumn 2021

Reefscapers coral spawning Maldives Marine Savers results

During Spring 2022

Key Findings

    • Observed coral spawnings: 18 species of Acroporidae, one species of Goniastrea.
    • Two spawning cycles occur each year, during spring and autumn.
    • We observed multi-specific synchronous spawning and split spawning.
    • Kaafu Atoll coral species typically spawn before species in Baa Atoll.
    • Environmental cues identified that coincide with spawning windows.
    • Species spawning variation across atolls and seasons.

Future Implications

Coral bleaching decreases reproductive potential of survivors, reduces gamete numbers, and leads to a long-term impact on reproduction over multiple spawning periods. As the persistence of Maldivian reef ecosystems relies on natural recruitment through reproduction, it is imperative to understand reproductive rates to predict population recovery following disturbance. This information will help us to understand regional spawning patterns and shifts in reproductive phenology over time.

Researchers: Margaux Monfared, Simon Dixon, Amelie Carraut, Kate Sheridan, Matthew Gledhill, Thomas Le Berre & Alejandra Woolrich

Acknowledgements: Thanks to the whole Reefscapers team, and to our Resort colleagues at both Four Seasons and Sheraton for their support.

These preliminary findings may be subject to change. None should be cited without prior written permission from the authors.

coral spawning - bundling of gametes Maldives Reefscapers