- Coral reefs are subjected to climate change and are severely impacted by human activities, with copper (Cu) being a relevant physiological stressor for corals at local scale. The ecological relevance of parameters measured at biochemical or cellular level is now considered an extremely important feature in environmental studies, and can be used as early warning signs of environmental degradation. In this context, the effects of acute exposure (96 h) to Cu were assessed on the maximum photochemical efficiency of zooxanthellae (Fv/Fm) and on the activity of key enzymes [carbonic anhydrase (CA) and Ca-ATPase] involved in coral physiology using the scleractinian coral Mussismilia harttii as a biological model. Corals were exposed to different concentrations of dissolved Cu (4.6-19.4 μg/L) using two different experimental approaches: a laboratory closed system and a marine mesocosm system. Fv/Fm values and Ca - ATPase activity were not affect by exposure to Cu in any of the exposure systems. However, a significant reduction in CA activity was observed in corals exposed to 11.9 and 19.4 μg Cu/L in the laboratory and at all concentrations of Cu tested in the mesocosm system (4.6, 6.0 and 8.5 μg/L). Based on the sensitivity of this enzyme to the short period of exposure to sublethal concentrations of Cu in both experimental approaches, the present study suggests the use of CA activity as a potential biomarker to be used in biomarker-based environmental monitoring programs in coral reefs.