Climate change scenarios suggest an increase in tropical ocean temperature by 1–3°C by 2099, potentially killing many coral reefs. But Arabian/Persian Gulf corals already exist in this future thermal environment predicted for most tropical reefs and survived severe bleaching in 2010, one of the hottest years on record. Exposure to 33–35°C was on average twice as long as in non-bleaching years. Gulf corals bleached after exposure to temperatures above 34°C for a total of 8 weeks of which 3 weeks were above 35°C. This is more heat than any other corals can survive, providing an insight into the present limits of holobiont adaptation. We show that average temperatures as well as heat-waves in the Gulf have been increasing, that coral population levels will fluctuate strongly, and reef-building capability will be compromised.