Vibrio shiloi is the causative agent of bleaching (loss of endosymbiotic zooxanthellae) of the coral Oculina patagonica in the Mediterranean Sea. To obtain information on the mechanism of bleaching, we examined the effect of secreted material (AK1-S) produced by V. shiloi on zooxanthellae isolated from corals. AK1-S caused a rapid inhibition of photosynthesis of the algae, as measured with a Mini-PAM fluorometer. The inhibition of photosynthesis was caused by (i) ammonia produced during the growth of V. shiloi on protein-containing media and (ii) a non-dialysable heat-resistant factor. This latter material did not inhibit photosynthesis of the algae by itself but, when added to different concentrations of NH4Cl, enhanced the inhibition approximately two- to threefold. Ammonia and the enhancer were effective to different degrees on zooxanthellae isolated from four species of coral examined. In addition to the rapid inhibition of photosynthesis, AK1-S caused bleaching (loss of pigmentation) and lysis of zooxanthellae. Bleaching was more rapid than lysis, reaching a peak (25% bleached algae) after 6 h. The factors in AK1-S responsible for bleaching and lysis were different from those responsible for the inhibition of photosynthesis, because they were heat sensitive, non-dialysable and active in the dark. Thus, the coral pathogen V. shiloi produces an array of extracellular materials that can inhibit photosynthesis, bleach and lyse zooxanthellae.