Incidences of coral disease in the Indo-Pacific are increasing at an alarming rate. In particular, Montipora white syndrome, a tissue-loss disease found on corals throughout the Hawaiian archipelago, has the potential to degrade Hawaii's reefs. To identify the etiologic agent of Montipora white syndrome, bacteria were isolated from a diseased fragment of Montipora capitata and used in a screen for virulent strains. A single isolate, designated strain OCN002, recreated disease signs in 53% of coral fragments in laboratory infection trials when added to a final concentration of 10(7) cells/ml of seawater. In addition to displaying similar signs of disease, diseased coral fragments from the field and those from infection trials both had a dramatic increase in the abundance of associated... culturable bacteria, with those of the genus Vibiro well represented. Bacteria isolated from diseased fragments used in infection trails were shown to be descendants of the original OCN002 inocula based on both the presence of a plasmid introduced to genetically tag the strain and the sequence of a region of the OCN002 genome. In contrast, OCN002 was not re-isolated from fragments that were exposed to the strain but did not develop tissue loss. Sequencing of the rrsH gene, metabolic characterization, as well as multilocus sequence analysis indicated that OCN002 is a strain of the recently described species Vibrio owensii. This investigation of Montipora white syndrome recognizes V. owensii OCN002 as the first bacterial coral pathogen identified from Hawaii's reefs and expands the range of bacteria known to cause disease in corals.