Saturday, October 10, 2015

World's corals threatened by El Niño, climate change

Coral reefs around the world are facing the threat of the third massive bleaching event ever on record due to the warming effects of El Niño and the impacts of climate change, scientists warn.

The bleaching event, which began in the north Pacific in summer 2014 and expanded to the south Pacific and Indian oceans in 2015, is expected to impact 38 percent of the world's coral reefs by the end of this year and kill over 12,000 sq km of reefs, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"What really has us concerned is this event has been going on for more than a year and our preliminary model projections indicate it’s likely to last well into 2016," said Mark Eakin, NOAA's Coral Reef Watch coordinator.


While corals can recover from mild bleaching, severe or long-term bleaching is often lethal. After corals die, reefs quickly degrade and the structures corals build erode. This provides less shoreline protection from storms and fewer habitats for fish and other marine life, including ecologically and economically important species.

Scientists called on people to act locally and think globally to address these bleaching events. "Locally produced threats to coral, such as pollution from the land and unsustainable fishing practices, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood that corals can either resist bleaching, or recover from it," said Jennifer Koss, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program acting program manager. "To solve the long-term, global problem, however, we need to better understand how to reduce the unnatural carbon dioxide levels that are the major driver of the warming."

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