Coral bleaching has become the new normal

Coral close-up. Image credit: Mathias Appel
Oceans

A recently published study reveals that mass coral bleaching is occuring with increasing regularity, posing a major threat to marine ecosystems and the lives they support:

A new study published in the journal Science reveals that such events occurred just once every 25-30 years in the early 1980s, but that warmer temperatures have seen this figure rise to once every six years.

It argues that severe and prolonged bleaching can cause many corals to die. It can then take at least a decade to replace these corals, threatening the existence of marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions.

“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of, even during strong El Niño conditions,” says the lead author of the study, professor Terry Hughes of James Cook University, Australia.

“But now repeated bouts of regional-scale bleaching and mass mortality of corals has become the new normal around the world as temperatures continue to rise.”

 

Read more from the IEMA Transform magazine, as well as from the Washington Post:

The main worry over the growing rate of severe bleaching is that reefs will not be able to recover quickly enough. It takes 10 to 15 years for the quickest-growing corals to reestablish themselves and far longer for some other species that are considered essential to a fully diverse and functional reef. This is why more and more it appears that reefs will need human assistance — such as artificial nurseries to grow and breed more competitive corals — to thrive.

You can also read the article abstract at the Science magazine website. The full journal article “Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene” is behind a subscription wall.

 

[Image credit: Mathias Appel]

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