Scientists announce record levels of bleaching
Report Max James
On Friday NOAA scientists will announce that global warming and the current intense El Niño has caused the longest coral die-off on record.
The gloomy announcement at the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting in New Orleans will also state that they fear the global bleaching event which started in 2014 could extend well into 2017.
'We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed,' said Mark Eakin, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator. 'We may be looking at a 2- to 2½-year-long event. Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row.'
According to Eakin, the length of the event means corals in some parts of the world have no time to recover before they are hit by more bleaching. The current global bleaching event is hammering some reefs repeatedly.
Scientists first observed the current global coral bleaching event beginning in mid-2014, when bleaching began in the western Pacific Ocean. In October 2015, as the current El Niño was still strengthening, NOAA scientists declared the third global bleaching event on record was underway.
The NOAA coral scientists point out that reefs that bleached in 2015 in the Caribbean and Florida Keys have just started to recover, but may start bleaching all over again as early as July. Eakin also notes that in the Pacific, corals in Fiji’s nearshore waters are bleaching with lots of dead coral for the second consecutive year, and could be worse than last year.
Also, as bleaching events become more frequent, some reefs may not have time to recover. In 1998 in Southeast Asia, severe bleaching was followed by twelve years of recovery that allowed some of the more rapid growing, branching corals to grow back. However, the slower growing corals that build the backbone of reefs did not recover. In 2010, the same area was hit again, killing off newly grown branching corals and many of the surviving massive corals. These reefs may see bleaching again later this year.
'The 2010 Southeast Asia event was only six years ago,' said Eakin. 'We’re seeing global bleaching again now. Research shows that the frequency of mass bleaching events is increasing because of global warming. The corals are being hit again and again.'