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TTC Special. Good news: Coral crisis eases

TTC Special. Good news: Coral crisis eases

About one billion people use coral reefs for fisheries or tourism. Photo: mihtiander/123RF

By F. Martin

TTC Service.- After three years since the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a global bleaching event in May 2014 the forecast damage doesn’t look widespread in the Indian Ocean, so the event loses its global scope, scientists announced.

That is the good news. The bad one is bleaching will still be bad in the Caribbean and Pacific, even it’ll be less severe than recent years. Coral reefs are one of the first and most prominent indicators of global warming.

When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. According to the National and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2005 the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event.

The report added then that the warm waters centered around the northern Antilles near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico expanded southward. Comparison of satellite data from the previous 20 years confirmed that thermal stress from the 2005 event was greater than the previous 20 years combined.

In January 2010, cold water temperatures in the Florida Keys caused a coral bleaching event that resulted in some coral death. Water temperatures dropped 12.06 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the typical temperatures observed at this time of year.

Coral bleaching and associated mortality not only have negative impacts on coral communities, but they also impact fish communities and the human communities that depend on coral reefs and associated fisheries for livelihoods and wellbeing. Experts said that coral bleaching affect the species that depend on them, such as the fish and invertebrates that rely on live coral for food, shelter, or recruitment habitat.

Change in the abundance and composition of reef fish assemblages may occur when corals die as a result of coral bleaching. Degraded coral reefs are less able to provide the ecosystem services on which local human communities depend.

For example, degraded reefs are less productive and may not be able to sustain accretion rates necessary to ensure reefs continue to provide shoreline protection service, concluded a study of The Reef Resilience Network, a partnership effort led by The Nature Conservancy that builds the capacity of reef managers and practitioners around the world to better address the local impacts on coral reefs from climate change and other stressors.

The global bleaching event in May 2014 was worse than previous global bleaching events in 1998 and 2010, but despite the good news places like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, northwest Hawaii, Guam and parts of the Caribbean have been hit with back-to-back-to-back destruction, said to American AP news agency last week NOAA coral reef watch coordinator C. Mark Eakin.

“While conditions are improving, it’s too early to celebrate” said Eakin, adding that the world may be at a new normal where reefs are barely able to survive during good conditions. Eakin said coral have difficulty surviving water already getting warmer by man-made climate change.

About one billion people use coral reefs for fisheries or tourism.