Coral reefs are now subject to global threats and influences from numerous anthropogenic sources. Foraminifera, a group of unicellular shelled organisms, are excellent indicators of water quality and reef health. Thus we studied a set of samples taken in 1992 to provide a foraminiferal baseline for future studies of environmental change. Our study provides the first island-wide analysis of shallow benthic foraminifera from around Moorea (Society Archipelago). We analyzed the composition, species richness, patterns of distribution and abundance of unstained foraminiferal assemblages from bays, fringing reefs, nearshore and back- and fore-reef environments. A total of 380 taxa of foraminifera were recorded, a number that almost doubles previous species counts. Spatial patterns of foraminiferal assemblages are characterized by numerical abundances of individual taxa, cluster groups and gradients of species richness, as documented by cluster, Fisher α, ternary plot and Principal Component Analyses (PCA). The inner bay inlets are dominated by stress-tolerant, mostly thin-shelled taxa of Bolivina, Bolivinella, Nonionoides, Elongobula, and Ammonia preferring low-oxygen and/or nutrient-rich habitats influenced by coastal factors such as fresh-water runoff and overhanging mangroves. The larger symbiont-bearing foraminifera (Borelis, Amphistegina, Heterostegina, Peneroplis) generally live in the oligotrophic, well-lit back- and fore-reef environments. Amphisteginids and peneroplids were among the few taxa found in the bay environments, probably due to their preferences for phytal substrates and tolerance to moderate levels of eutrophication. The fringing reef environments along the outer bay are characterized by Borelis schlumbergeri, Heterostegina depressa, Textularia spp. and various miliolids which represent a hotspot of diversity within the complex reef-lagoon system of Moorea. The high foraminiferal Fisher α and species richness diversity in outer bay fringing reefs is consistent with the disturbance-mosaic (microhabitat heterogeneity) hypothesis. Calculations of the FORAM Index (FI), a single metric index to assess reef vitality, indicate that all fore- and most back-reef environments support active carbonate accretion and provide habitat suitability for carbonate producers dependent on algal symbiosis. Lowest suitability values were recorded within the innermost bays, an area where natural and increasing anthropogenic influences continue to impact the reefs. The presence of habitat specific assemblages and numerical abundance values of individual taxa show that benthic foraminifera are excellent recorders of environmental perturbations and good indicators useful in modern and ancient ecological and environmental studies
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