According to researchers, massive coral bleaching is threatening the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, due to global warming and El Niño.
This warning was issued last week by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in conjunction with the University of Queensland.
The coral bleaching wave will take place at a global level, especially in the tropical Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The phenomenon will be the third ever reported in recent history, and as scientists explain, it is associated with the upcoming El Niño.
It appears that as the band of warm ocean water extends in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, corals will not be able to cope with these temperature fluctuations.
Normally, corals live in symbiosis with algae named Zooxanthellae: they offer shelter, while receiving energy and food.
When waters get too warm, the marine invertebrates experience stress and displace the algae, which had covered them in eye-catching colors. As a result, they turn white, and in the absence of their source of nutrition they starve and die.
As meteorologists estimate, this year’s El Niño might be much more detrimental than the one in 1998, which had been the worst on record. Back then, another major coral bleaching occurred, killing 16% of the planet’s corals, so this time the scale of this destruction will most likely be even greater.
Weekly sea-surface temperatures have already increased by around 2 degrees Celsius from mid-August until early September.
As a result, coral bleaching has already been identified in South Florida and Florida Keys, and has been intensifying in the Hawaiian Islands. It will also extend to Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and from the Virgin Islands to the Windward and Leeward Islands.
Thousands of hectares of coral are expected to die, because they will be unable to withstand extreme temperature oscillations.
They had already been threatened with destruction because of global warming, which destroyed 80% of their population in their Caribbean, and halved it in the Pacific and Indonesia over the last 30-40 years.
As experts warn, if current trends continue and fossil fuels continue to be burned at staggering rates, we might lose all coral reefs by 2050, as a result of massive bleaching.
Coral reefs are an essential part of the ocean ecosystem, although they extend over just 0.1% of the ocean seafloor. They provide habitat for more than 25% of the ocean’s marine species, supporting more than 4,000 species of fish.
Aside from the fact that thousands of species are dependent on coral reefs for their survival, these underwater structures are also an essential source of food, income and medicine for mankind.
Half a billion people across the world rely on fish that grow on coral reefs for their nutrition, and local communities generate billions of dollars from reef-related tourism and recreation.
Therefore, as the surface of these ecosystems dwindles, the consequences will be far-reaching and tremendous. It is essential in this context to establish new global guidelines for the conservation and protection of coral reefs, by combating pollution and over-fishing.
Hopefully, the upcoming COP Sustainable Innovation Forum, which will take place on December 7-8 in Paris will boost international engagement in countering climate change and reversing its impact.
Image Source: Flickr