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Rising ocean temperatures could cause coral bleaching to increase

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Posted at 12:37 PM, Jul 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-09 12:37:52-04

Scientists say unusually warm ocean temperatures could threaten more coral reefs, potentially leading to the death of corals over a wide area and affecting the long-term supply of fish and shellfish.

In an article released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists expect greater bleaching of corals through October because of rising ocean temperatures, specifically in the north Pacific, equatorial Pacific and western Atlantic oceans.

“The bleaching that started in June 2014 has been really bad for corals in the western Pacific,” said Mark Eakin, NOAA Coral Reef Watch coordinator.  “We are worried that bleaching will spread to the western Atlantic and again into Hawaii.”

So, why is this important to know?

Well, coral reefs are important to the underwater ecosystem.  Coral bleaching occurs when the corals are stressed by changes in environmental conditions, like water temperature, overexposure to sunlight, extreme low tides, and runoff and pollution.  When they are exposed to these conditions, the algae, which the corals depend on to survive, leave the coral’s tissue.  In turn, that causes the tissue to turn white or pale.  And without the algae, the coral loses its major source of food, making it more susceptible to disease.

According to scientists, corals can recover from mild bleaching.  However, severe or long-term bleaching can kill corals.  Once corals die, it can take decades for the reef to recover.  This ultimately provides less shoreline protection and less habitat for fish and shellfish.

Hawaii saw widespread coral bleaching in the fall of 2014, the first time it had seen such bleaching since 1996.  The Florida Keys also saw a big blow to its coral nurseries in 2014 because of warmer ocean temperatures.  Scientists are currently growing threatened coral species to transplant onto local reefs in that area.

The NOAA Coral Reef Watch monitoring team is keeping a close eye on environmental conditions.  The team says that more bleaching so soon could be disastrous to corals that have yet to recover from stress in 2014.

To read more about the coral bleaching threat, click HERE.

Credit: NOAA