Coral bleaching (the loss of symbiotic dinoflagellates from reef-building corals) is most frequently caused by high-light and temperature conditions. We exposed the explants of the hermatypic coral Stylophora pistillata to four combinations of light and temperature in late spring and also in late summer. During mid-summer, two NOAA bleaching warnings were issued for Heron Island reef (Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia) when sea temperature exceeded the NOAA bleaching threshold, and a ‘mild’ (in terms of the whole coral community) bleaching event occurred, resulting in widespread S. pistillata bleaching and mortality. Symbiotic dinoflagellate biomass decreased by more than half from late spring to late summer (from 2.5×106 to 0.8×106 dinoflagellates cm2 coral tissue), and those dinoflagellates that remained after summer became photoinhibited more readily (dark-adapted F V : F M decreased to (0.3 compared with 0.4 in spring), and died in greater numbers (up to 17% dinoflagellate mortality compared with 5% in the spring) when exposed to artificially elevated light and temperature. Adding exogenous antioxidants (d-mannitol and l-ascorbic acid) to the water surrounding the coral had no clear effect on either photoinhibition or symbiont mortality. These data show that light and temperature stress cause mortality of the dinoflagellate symbionts within the coral, and that susceptibility to light and temperature stress is strongly related to coral condition. Photoinhibitory mechanisms are clearly involved, and will increase through a positive feedback mechanism: symbiont loss promotes further symbiont loss as the light microenvironment becomes progressively harsher.