September 14, 2017

Corals in the Pacific are in Trouble

Corals in the Pacific are in Trouble

A pair of clownfish finds a save haven among corals. Reefs in the world's oceans provide home for a quarter of marine life. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As global warming continues to take its toll, corals in the Pacific Ocean are dying off en masse. Reefs in several areas have experienced alarming mass bleaching episodes, leaving large swathes of coral dead or near-dead.

Corals are tiny creatures that live in colonies and require algae to provide them with food and energy. When they begin to experience environmental stress, corals “bleach” by shedding their algae, which give them their vibrant colors. By doing so, they become susceptible to diseases and vulnerable to further harm.

Bleached corals are highly vulnerable to environmental stresses. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yet this is what is happening on a mass scale in the Pacific, according to French scientists who conducted an extensive survey along a 50,000-kilometer stretch of waters. They have found that up to 90% of corals around the Samoan Islands have undergone bleaching, while in the Tuamotu archipelago, half of coral colonies have bleached.

Worse: Even in the north, around Japan, with its more temperate waters, surface temperatures have risen too high, leaving several local reefs in dire straits. As much as 70% of corals around the island of Okinawa have begun to bleach. “All along Tara’s Pacific route, we observed coral deaths and very serious bleaching,” a French scientist who directed the survey said.

All this is certainly sad, but hardly surprising. Scientists have long been warning that rising water temperatures, fuelled by climate change, are bound to wreak havoc with the world’s corals, including Malaysia’s. And if the reefs go, so too will entire marine ecosystems that depend on corals for their survival. Albeit corals account for only a mere 1% of the ocean’s environment, they harbor around a quarter of marine life, serving as shelter for aquatic animals, large and small.

And it won’t be just marine ecosystems that will suffer if the reefs die off. Entire tourism industries in developing countries depend on the scenic ecosystems of reefs for much-needed income while many coastal fishing communities depend on the same reefs for their daily sustenance.



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