We are currently experiencing the longest and most widespread mass coral bleaching event and it is impacting every major reef area in the world.
Coral Bleaching in the South China Sea
Research indicates that in 2016 coral throughout the South China Sea saw the worse bleaching event in 40 years. Now the BBC reports that the South China Sea is facing another “Devastating” coral loss this year, due to a spike in sea temperatures. Coral Bleaching has damaged 40% of the Dongsha Atoll. (photo – Getty Images)
Update on Great Barrier Reef
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2016 likewise saw the worst coral bleaching on record, following two previous events in 2002 and 1998. Now the Australian government has confirmed that record coral bleaching is occurring for the fourth time in history.
Researchers now believe that a cap on ocean warming of 2 degrees may not be sufficient to save these coral reefs, because “coral reefs are shallow water ecosystems and a tweak in the local weather can turn that 2 degrees Celsius into a 6 degrees Celsius warming.” See our related article: Can the Great Barrier Reef Be Saved??
More Experts, More Pessimistic
Many experts have become even more pessimistic about the sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef stating that parts of the reef will never recover. Last year approximately two-thirds of a 500 mile stretch of the northern reef was subjected to extremes of ocean warming that resulted in coral die-off. Scientists from ARC Center for Coral Reef Studies report that even the areas that survived may never recover fully. (photo -FarbenfroheWunderweit)
“Given time, coral can recover from bleaching but the problem comes when you get repeated events. With less time between them, capacity for the coral reef community to recover diminishes rapidly,” said Janice Lough, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science. These latest research results demonstrate the urgency of tackling climate change.
“We’re hoping that the next two to three weeks will cool off quickly, and this year’s bleaching won’t be anything like last year,” said Terry Hughes, of ARC so we just need to wait and hope. Read more at:Cleantechnica.com
Coral Taskforce Issues Research Paper
The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce is composed of scientists from ten of Australia’s research institutions. Unfortunately, there recent findings indicated that exposure to previous coral bleaching events do not make corals any more resilient to new events. (photo – Sinclair Taylor)
Japan’s Largest Coral Reef Loses 70%
Further north we are seeing Japan’s largest coral reef suffering from similar ocean warming. The Huffington Post reports that more than 70% of the living coral on the Sekiseishoko reef, located in the Ryukyu Islands near Okinawa, died, last year. This was determined in a survey conducted last December and is a result of rising ocean temperatures that caused the worst bleaching event in the reef’s recorded history. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)
“The reef experienced harsh bleaching in 1998 (around 35 percent death), and then some more in 2007 (about 30 percent), but was generally seen as recovering to some degree from these events,” said James Reimer, a coral specialist at the University of the Ryukyus. “This recent round looks to be approximately twice as bad, and a lot of the recovery from 1998 and 2007 has been lost. This bleaching is certainly much worse than past events, which themselves are not seen as ‘natural’ but as a product of climate change.”
Asked if the ref could recover? Reimer responded “Given the current rate of global warming, the outlook for the reef is not great.”
The Sekiseishoko reef is “the largest in Japan, and incredibly important to local fishermen and tourist operators,” said Reimer. “Damage on this scale will have long term economic and social repercussions.”
Ocean Resorts Join to Restore Reefs
Outrigger Ozone is a program to rebuild and regrow damaged coral reefs off the Outrigger Konotta Resort in the Maldives. Caterina Fattori, the resort’s resident marine biologist began the initiative after witnessing last year’s coral bleaching. Fattori had already been working on restoring the local reefs, progress that she says has been set back significantly by last year’s event. (photo – Outrigger Resort)
Outrigger Konotta, along with Taj Exotica in the Maldives, the Wakatobi Dive Resort in Southeast Sulawesi, Alila Manggis in Bali, and the Andaman in Malaysia have joined together in reef reconstruction and conservation programs.
“Programs like this have to come from the heart,” says Doris Goh, of Alila Manggis. “We believe in being good neighbors and showing that there is sustainability in tourism and that we will protect the environment and the beauty of it for future generations.”
The process of growing coral is started by attaching broken, but still living, pieces of coral to an underwater frame. It’s a slow process but with time and protection the reef can eventually regenerate itself. Including all five resorts more than 320 coral frames have been transplanted into reefs.
Using this system the Outrigger alone, has transplanted about 21,500 square feet of new coral. All the resorts share these programs with their guests, where they can help to plant coral or share in cleaning the reef in preparation for transplanting.
“It doesn’t matter where people live, how close or far away from the ocean,” Fattori said. “Everybody is connecting to the ecosystem. If we don’t have healthy oceans, we cannot have life on land,” See the entire article in the New York Times.
Mote and Nature Conservancy to Restore One Million Corals
The Caribbean and Florida have seen a decline in coral of 50 to 80 percent over the last thirty years which makes the work of Mote Marine Laboratory and the Nature Conservancy imperative. Mote has been very successful in re-growing staghorn coral, and so far have planted 20,000 fragments on damaged reefs in the Florida Keys. (photo – Mote Marine Lab)
Now Mote and Nature Conservancy have joined forces with the aim of creating by 2020, a coral gene bank of threatened species as insurance against future climate change and catastrophic bleaching events. By 2025 they hope to have planted one million coral segments in the Florida Keys and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A permanent coral restoration facility is being planned for the island of St. Croix. See this entire article at reefdivers.
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Find Out About Other Innovative Efforts to Save Our Coral Reef
See our, recent, wrap-around post on what scientists are doing to preserve, and regrow our coral reefs, including 3-D Coral reef Printing: Saving Coral Reefs; With Innovation.
Plus see these related posts on ocean warming and climate change: