On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned that this year the Pacific may record the worst coral bleaching since the devastating El Niño event in 1998. Back then, El Niño increased the Pacific Ocean’s temperatures so much that nearly 20 percent of its coral reefs underwent a sudden bleaching process. The same think is about to repeat this year due to the global warming effect.
Researchers say that the warming effect of El Niño was so intense 16 years ago, that many of the coral reefs have never fully recovered.
Corals usually bleach when there are no algae attached to them to provide them with the beautiful colors we all know. When water temperatures get too warm for too much time, corals suddenly reject algae living within their tissue and become ghostly white. This phenomenon is called ‘coral bleaching.’
Marine experts say that corals can survive several bleaching events, but they often die in the process. NOAA scientists suggested that global warming and increased acidity of oceanic water could put in great danger coral reefs across the planet.
“As the ocean becomes more acidified the bleaching threshold for corals drops, more carbon dioxide makes corals more sensitive to thermal stress. Not only are we seeing more thermal stress … but we’re making them more sensitive at the same time,”
Mark Eakin, lead member of the Coral Reef Watch team at NOAA, said in a recent interview.
Scientists also warn that 2014 has been the hottest year on the record since 1880 when the first paper records were kept. September air temperatures were record breaking at a 1.19 degree F above average, while June and August recorded the highest ocean temperatures ever.
Usually, such anomalies would occur if an El Niño event triggered them. However, this year’s global warming effect was enough to trigger such temperatures, while climate experts believe that this phenomenon would be the ‘new normal.’
The Coral Reef Watch team said that a rare coral bleaching occurred this year near Hawaii on an area of about 140,000 square miles. Researchers say that in the shallower waters about 90 percent of the corals were damaged by a wave of high temperatures. Even more resistant species were affected.
Additionally, fish species that rely on the coral reef to survive such as the Butterfly fish have temporarily vanished from the bleached areas.
However, NOAA scientists say that next year bleaching would get even worse when global warming and El Niño would join forces in pushing up the ocean’s temperatures.
Image Source: Teach Ocean Science