Triggered by global warming and the El Nino, record hot ocean water is causing fragile coral to go white and often die, threatening picturesque reefs that are hotspots of marine life, experts say.
The spread of sickly white started more than a year ago in Guam, then devastated Hawaii, infected the rest of the tropical Pacific and the Indian oceans and has now infested Florida and the Caribbean. On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and international reef scientists pronounced it a global coral bleaching event, only the third in recorded history.
No place with coral has been spared, though some regions — such as Hawaii — have been hit harder than others, experts said. Excessive heat stresses the living coral, which turns white and then becomes vulnerable to disease.
“We may be looking at losing somewhere in the range of 10 to 20 percent of the coral reefs this year,” NOAA coral reef watch coordinator Mark Eakin said. “The bad news for the U.S. is we’re getting hit disproportionately just because of the pattern of the warming.”
He called bleaching a crisis, especially with worsening global warming forecast for the rest of the century: “If that’s not a crisis, what is?”
Eakin said he’s especially concerned about Hawaii, which already suffered through bad bleaching in 2014.
“Hawaii is getting hit with the worst coral bleaching they have ever seen, right now,” Eakin said. “It’s severe. It’s extensive. And it’s on all the islands.”
In one part of northwestern Hawaii, “the reef just completely bleached and all of the coral is dead and covered with scuzzy algae.”
Florida started getting hit in August. The middle Florida Keys aren’t too bad, but in southeast Florida, bleaching has combined with disease to kill corals, Eakin said. It has also hit Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and is about to hit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, he said. READ MORE.
SOURCE: THE NEW YORK TIMES