Severe Coral Bleaching Could Devastate Reef Ecosystems

Published on January 4th, 2009 | by

January 4th, 2009 by

coral bleaching

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting severe bleaching for parts of the Coral Sea, near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the Coral Triangle, causing immense damage to an important global marine environment over the next few months.


“This forecast bleaching episode will be caused by increased water temperatures and is the kind of event we can expect on a regular basis if average global temperatures rise above 2 degrees.” – Richard Leck, Climate Change Strategy Leader for WWF’s Coral Triangle Program.

Because corals are extremely sensitive to a change in temperature, even a small increase can cause bleaching. It occurs when the zooxanthellae – the tiny organisms that live within the coral – become expelled from the coral because of stress. Corals depend upon the zooxanthellae to share the energy produced through photosynthesis.

The coral bleaching could have a devastating impact on coral reef ecosystems by killing coral and destroying food chains in the ocean. Communities who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods may see a huge impact from this event.

“Regular bleaching episodes in this part of the world will have a massive impact on the region’s ability to sustain local communities.  In the Pacific many of the Small Island Developing States, such as the Solomon Islands, rely largely on the coast and coastal environments such as coral reefs for food supply. This is a region where alternative sources of income and food are limited.” – Leck

A recent World Wildlife Fund report, Implications of Climate Change for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, warns that both the frequency and severity of coral bleaching will increase worldwide, and predicts that less than 5% of the coral on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will remain by 2050 due to climate change. The loss of coral would completely destroy the entire reef ecosystem.

Image: CybersamX at Flickr under Creative Commons

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