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Call for Divers to Help Record Extent of Coral Bleaching

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A shallow Raja Ampat reef showing severe bleaching last year

 

We are suffering the world's third-ever global coral bleaching event and researchers are calling on divers to help record the extent of the damage.

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society has created a simple-to-use downloadable template to provide a 'rapid assessment' of what we see underwater and is helping organise a global database to record the impact of coral bleaching.

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Part of the downloadable template

'It was really in 2016 when the third global bleaching event was announced that we knew we needed to do something coordinated and strategic, and so we took that method that had been developed in the Western Indian Ocean and shared it with our colleagues and programs,'  said WCS Associate Conservation Scientist Emily Darling. 'Being able to use a common and shared methodology, we’re able to aggregate information a lot faster and turn it around to make decisions.'

The template allows scientists and citizen scientists to easily record the condition of their local reefs during the summer months when water temperatures reach their peak.

'For those familiar with coral genera, the bleaching of each colony is scaled by the intensity of the bleaching in haphazardly selected fields of vision,' WCS said in a release. 'For those who cannot identify corals, there is a simpler method that allows participation by scaling how white corals has become.'

Last year more than 300 such surveys around the world looked at more than 70,000 coral colonies including 80 different coral types and found that 56 per cent were bleached during peak temperature times. 

'There’s incredible variability: so within different countries, across different sites, some reefs are bleaching less than we expect, others are bleaching more. Similarly with coral species: some are more vulnerable than we would have expected, and others are less vulnerable,' Darling said, adding that bleaching isn’t a death sentence for coral, but rather a sign of extreme stress. 'And so really trying to understand that variation is an incredibly important part of figuring out what will survive climate change — or at least what has the best chance of surviving climate change.'

This year they hope to spread the information gathering far further.

'The more eyes and ears we have assessing coral reefs the more we can learn about how to save them,'  WCS Senior Conservation Zoologist Tim McClanahan said. 'We are learning that bleaching is widespread and affects many species, but that there are also species and reefs that can persist if other human disturbances do not overwhelm them. We hope a larger community of caring and knowledgeable people will take up this rapid response to help save the Earth’s most beautiful ecosystem.”

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