Caribbean and Atlantic coral reefs suffered record losses due to extreme heat in 2005. In the most comprehensive assessment of regional coral bleaching, scientists from over 22 countries, including Brown’s Sheila Walsh, report that over 80% of corals bleached and 40% died. These losses are especially alarming because Caribbean corals are already in peril due to overfishing, nutrient pollution, and previous bleaching events. Coral bleaching occurs when the symbiotic algae inside corals are expelled due to stress, usually from high water temperatures. Coral bleaching is increasing in frequency and severity with another major event occurring this year. The study, that appears in PLoS ONE, has set the standard for testing satellite predictions of coral bleaching and documenting large-scale bleaching phenomena. We now need to leverage our ability to predict and document coral bleaching toward preventing or ameliorating the effects of future thermal stress on corals through global climate policy and local management. This should be a policy priority because the decline of corals has substantial ecological, economic, and cultural impacts globally.
For the study, please see: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0013969
For the NOAA press release, see: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20101115_coralbleaching.html