White syndromes are distinguished by the presence of a diffuse, white lesion that develops into a linear (or annular) band or an irregular patch on a coral colony. The lesion consists of an area of recently exposed coral skeleton adjacent to apparently healthy tissue. In some cases, a narrow band of bleached tissue may separate the denuded skeleton and normal appearing tissue.
Live tissue typically forms an abrupt margin at the lesion border and colonies usually lack a zone of transition between live coral tissue and freshly denuded skeleton, although some tissue sloughing may be apparent. Lesion boundaries are free of visible microorganisms, pigmented bands or other colonizing organisms.
Colonies that have been affected by a white syndrome for weeks to months often display extensive areas of tissue loss. Exposed skeleton first denuded by the disease, distal to the actively progressing front of the lesion, may be colonized by algae or other microorganisms and often colonies exhibit a progression from stark white skeleton to green or brownish skeletal surfaces with fine filamentous algae, followed by later stages of colonization by macroalgae, crustose coralline algae or other organisms.
White Syndromes characterized by diffuse patterns of tissue loss have been reported as white plague-like disease in the Red Sea, atramentous necrosis on the GBR, and white band disease.