Coral bleaching likely in Caribbean this year

September 22, 2010

According to the NOAA Coral Reef Watch monitoring system, coral bleaching is likely in the Caribbean in 2010. With temperatures above-average all year, NOAA's models show a strong potential for bleaching in the southern and southeastern Caribbean through October that could be as severe as in 2005 when over 80 percent of corals bleached and over 40 percent died at many sites across the Caribbean. Scientists are already reporting coral bleaching at several Caribbean sites and severe bleaching has been reported from other parts of the world.

The NOAA Coral Reef Watch (CRW) satellite coral bleaching monitoring shows sea surface temperatures continue to remain above-average throughout the wider Caribbean region. Large areas of the southeastern Caribbean Sea are experiencing thermal stress capable of causing coral bleaching. The western Gulf of Mexico and the southern portion of the Bahamas have also experienced significant bleaching thermal stress. The CRW Coral Bleaching Thermal Stress Outlook indicates that the high stress should continue to develop in the southern and southeast Caribbean until mid-October. Prolonged coral bleaching, can lead to coral death and the subsequent loss of coral reef habitats for a range of marine life.

"The early warning predictions of NOAA's CRW program are vital to assist coral reef managers in making early preparations for coral bleaching events," says Billy Causey, southeast regional director for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. "While managers can't do anything immediately to prevent coral bleaching, these early warnings give them time to monitor and track the stressful event, thus learning more about both direct and secondary impacts of bleaching on coral reefs around the world."

The decline and loss of coral reefs has significant social, cultural, economic and ecological impacts on people and communities in the Caribbean, the United States, Australia and throughout the world. As the "rainforests of the sea," coral reefs provide services estimated to be worth as much as $375 billion globally each year.

"High temperatures cause corals to force out the symbiotic algae that provide them with food. This makes the corals appear white or 'bleached' and can increase outbreaks of infectious disease," said Mark Eakin, Ph.D., coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch. "Temperatures are high in the Caribbean, and we expect this to continue. This season has the potential to be one of the worst bleaching seasons for some reefs."

"A NOAA survey cruise just returned from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary where we saw serious bleaching," said Emma Hickerson, sanctuary research coordinator for the site, located off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. "Several species were bleached and we are concerned we could lose much of the fire corals this year."

Even though a variety of stresses -- namely thermal stresses -- continue to rise in the Caribbean basin, temperatures are expected to begin cooling in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. In addition, recent hurricanes and tropical storms that passed near the U.S. Virgin Islands have cooled the waters there. NOAA researchers have shown that tropical weather systems can cool the high temperatures that cause bleaching, and NOAA forecasts that this Atlantic hurricane season will probably be more active than usual.

In 2005, the year of the worst bleaching on record in the Caribbean, no tropical storms passed close enough to cool the Virgin Islands, resulting in 90 percent of the area corals being bleached and 60 percent dying. Overall the 2005 bleaching event was the result of the largest, most intense thermal stress recorded in the Caribbean during the 25-year NOAA satellite record.
-end-
NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/usnoaagov.

NOAA Headquarters

Related Coral Reefs Articles from Brightsurf:

The cement for coral reefs
Coral reefs are hotspots of biodiversity. As they can withstand heavy storms, they offer many species a safe home.

Palau's coral reefs: a jewel of the ocean
The latest report from the Living Oceans Foundation finds Palau's reefs had the highest coral cover observed on the Global Reef Expedition--the largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history.

Shedding light on coral reefs
New research published in the journal Coral Reefs generates the largest characterization of coral reef spectral data to date.

Uncovering the hidden life of 'dead' coral reefs
'Dead' coral rubble can support more animals than live coral, according to University of Queensland researchers trialling a high-tech sampling method.

Collaboration is key to rebuilding coral reefs
The most successful and cost-effective ways to restore coral reefs have been identified by an international group of scientists, after analyzing restoration projects in Latin America.

Coral reefs show resilience to rising temperatures
Rising ocean temperatures have devastated coral reefs all over the world, but a recent study in Global Change Biology has found that reefs in the Eastern Tropical Pacific region may prove to be an exception.

Genetics could help protect coral reefs from global warming
The research provides more evidence that genetic-sequencing can reveal evolutionary differences in reef-building corals that one day could help scientists identify which strains could adapt to warmer seas.

Tackling coral reefs' thorny problem
Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have revealed the evolutionary history of the crown-of-thorns starfish -- a predator of coral that can devastate coral reefs.

The state of coral reefs in the Solomon Islands
The ''Global Reef Expedition: Solomon Islands Final Report'' summarizes the foundation's findings from a monumental research mission to study corals and reef fish in the Solomon Islands and provides recommendations on how to preserve these precious ecosystems into the future.

Mysterious glowing coral reefs are fighting to recover
A new study by the University of Southampton has revealed why some corals exhibit a dazzling colorful display, instead of turning white, when they suffer 'coral bleaching' -- a condition which can devastate reefs and is caused by ocean warming.

Read More: Coral Reefs News and Coral Reefs Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.