May 19, 2017

Yet more Reefs may be Doomed … this time in the Indian Ocean

Yet more Reefs may be Doomed … this time in the Indian Ocean

Corals at atolls in the Indian Ocean are experiencing mass bleaching as a result of climate change. Photo Credit: John Turner

First it was the Great Barrier Reef, off Australia, which underwent extreme mass bleaching that placed the very existence of many corals there in jeopardy. Now it’s corals in the Chagos Archipelago, a smattering of 60 small coral atolls, in the Indian Ocean that are likewise experiencing the threat of death by mass bleaching. The cause: warming water temperatures brought on by climate change.

“In shallow water, above 15 meters and in places down to 20 meters, we’ve seen a lot of coral mortality — probably somewhere in the region of 90 percent,” John Turner, a professor at Bangor University in Wales who led the recent expedition, told The Washington Post. “It’s a very upsetting thing to see, when these reefs have developed so well, and to see them being essentially reset, if you’d like.”

Coral beaching endangers the survival of corals and the myriad species that depend on them. Photo Credit: Flickr

Corals bleach by shedding the tiny algae that inhabit them and give them their flamboyant colors. They do so when they experience environmental stresses, such as rising water temperatures. When they’re bleached, reefs become more vulnerable to harm and diseases. Stressed corals can recover from a mass bleaching episode but only if conditions for them improve.

The fear is that what with the onset of global warming, reefs will come to experience periodical bleaching episode, leading to their eventual demise. The United Nations recently warned that more and more reefs in tropical water will be impacted by climate change in coming years. Between 2014 and 2016, the world witnessed the longest global bleaching event on record, with the hardest hit including Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef, where some 90% of which underwent mass bleaching while 20% of corals perished.

“If the reefs begin to die off in any way or erode, then of course these atolls are at risk. Erosion will begin to exceed growth, and we will see these islands begin to recede. That’s the natural way with atolls,” Turner said of the reefs in the Chagos Archipelago. [W]hat we have learned is that the big bleaching events that are caused by ocean warming have affected these reefs just like any other,” he added.

Needless to say, warming water temperatures are bad news for Malaysia’s own beleaguered corals as well.



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