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Severe damage expected for Caribbean coral reefs in 2006

Severe damage expected for Caribbean coral reefs in 2006

Severe damage expected for Caribbean coral reefs in 2006
July 4, 2006

Caribbean Sea temperatures have reached their annual high two months ahead of schedule according to a report from The Associated Press. Scientists are concerned that the region’s coral reefs may suffer even worse damage than last year when 70 percent of coral was bleached in some areas.

Al Strong, a scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch, told The Associated Press that sea temperatures around Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys reached 83.5 degrees this past weekend and are expected to climb further this summer.

“If it were to go up another degree, it would be pretty serious,” Strong told Mat Probasco of The Associated Press. “That’s what we had last year.”

Coral bleaching is associated with a variety of physiological stresses, the most important of which is elevated sea surface temperatures. Bleaching causes coral to expel symbiotic zooxanthellae algae living in their tissues — algae that provide corals with nourishment. Losing their algae leaves coral tissues devoid of color, and thus appearing to be bleached. Corals can recover from short-term bleaching, but prolonged bleaching — over a week — can cause irreversible damage and subsequent death.

Photo by Rhett Butler

The first coral bleaching on record occurred in 1979. Since then, there have been seven events, each of which has been progressively more frequent and severe. In the El Niño year of 1998, when tropical sea surface temperatures were the highest yet in recorded history, coral reefs around the world suffered the most severe bleaching on record.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, head of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Marine Studies, believes that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — the world’s largest reef — could lose 95 percent of its living coral by 2050 should ocean temperatures increase by the 1.5 degrees Celsius projected by climate scientists.

This article used quotes an information from The Associated Press and previous articles.

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