Scientist fear mass death for Hawaii’s coral reef

Scientist fear mass death for Hawaii’s coral reef

Bleaching has killed as much as 30 to 40 percent of the world’s reefs over the past decades. Some manage to bounce back to their former glory. Others do not.

Scientists across the world have been fretting about the far-reaching effects of the rise in global ocean temperatures. Nowhere is the damage wrought by climate change more apparent than in the bleaching of Hawaii’s coral reefs.

Bleaching is the term given coral’s expulsion of the algae they rely on for food when the water temperature rises. As they push out the algae, the coral loses its vibrant color- as if it had been bleached. In addition to starving the coral, the loss of algae makes the coral more susceptible to disease.

Bleaching has killed as much as 30 to 40 percent of the world’s reefs over the past decades. Some manage to bounce back to their former glory. Others do not.

This is not only a tragedy for the coral reefs but also for all of the fish and other aquatic species that rely on the live coral for food and habitation.

It is also detrimental to the Hawaiian economy which is dependent on tourism. Thousands of travelers come every year to swim amidst the beautiful marine creatures.

“You go from a vibrant, three-dimensional structure teeming with life, teeming with color, to a flat pavement that’s covered with brown or green algae,” said Ruth Gates, the director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. “That is a really doom-and-gloom outcome but that is the reality that we face with extremely severe bleaching events.”

The island state is only just recovering for the traumatic bleaching that occurred last year. This year, temperatures in the waters around Hawaii were two degrees Celsius warmer (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientists worry that the Hawaiian coral could experience the worst bleaching ever on record.

“You can’t stress an individual, an organism, once and then hit it again very, very quickly and hope they will recover as quickly,” said Gates.

The Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources says that people could help the coral by changing some of their behaviors. For instance, cease fertilizing lawns and washing cars with soaps. In both cases, the chemicals run off into the ground water and ultimately into the ocean.

Additionally, people should avoid walking on coral reefs. Boats should not drop anchors on coral.

Although it is not known for certain why areas in the northeast Pacific are warmer than normal this year, many believe it has to do with the rise of El Nino. The natural phenomenon has been building strength for years and could strike within months.

The bleaching of the coral can be tracked on Hawaii’s ‘Eyes on the Reef’ website at http://www.eorhawaii.org.

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