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Fiji fouled by coral reef bleaching

Coral throughout the Caribbean is bleaching  
ENN



April 26, 2000
Web posted at: 12:03 p.m. EDT (1603 GMT)

A recent bleaching episode in Fiji is more evidence that warmer sea surface temperatures are contributing to the destruction of the world's coral reefs, scientists say.

Beginning a few weeks ago, above-average sea temperatures gave rise to widespread bleaching along the southern coastline of the South Pacific island. No other event of this magnitude has occurred in the area over the past 30 years, scientists report.

"This is more evidence of the increased frequency of bleaching events that are the result of global warming," said Gregor Hodgson, founder of Reef Check, a volunteer organization that provides an annual survey of coral reefs.

Bleaching occurs when coral is physiologically stressed by a rise in sea surface temperature and loses the symbiotic algae that provide it with color and nutrition. Depending on the intensity and duration of the stress, the coral will recover or die.

Hodgson said bleaching has occurred in approximately 65 percent of Fiji's reefs. About 15 percent of them are dead.

Researchers say warmer sea surface temperatures are responsible for Fiji's devastating coral bleaching  

The most recent major coral bleaching event occurred in 1998 as a result of the El Niño weather phenomenon, which caused ocean temperatures to rise as much as 2 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the world. Studies show that 15 percent of the world's coral reefs were wiped out, Hodgson said, with as much as 95 percent mortality in areas of the Indian Ocean.

While nearly a third of the reefs have recovered, Hodgson warns that other human threats such as overfishing and pollution are greatly contributing to coral reef declines throughout the world. "Overfishing is almost everywhere, except for a few well-managed marine parks," he said.

"In order for the reefs to recover, water temperatures must drop," said Bruce Carlson, director of the Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu, Hawaii, and a witness of the event in Fiji.

Recovery efforts are difficult. Transplanting healthy coral populations in areas where bleaching has occurred is one possibility, but Carlson called the method "a huge effort for a small return."

Providing habitat for 25 percent of marine species, coral reefs are considered to be one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth. Many scientists compare the level of biodiversity in coral reef communities to that of the Amazon rain forest.

'The significance of the event in Fiji is that it is a country that is highly dependent on tourism for its income," Hodgson said. "Most reefs occur in poor countries. If global warming predictions are correct, this event serves as a great warning."

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved




RELATED STORIES:
Coral provides clues to climate change
February 7, 2000
El Niño-like phenomenon means dry years ahead in U.S.
January 19, 2000
Galapagos iguanas shrink to survive El El Niño
January 7, 2000
El Niño calms Atlantic hurricane season
September 3, 1999

RELATED ENN STORIES:
Coral provides clues to climate change
Effort underway to map U.S. coral reefs
Coral bleaching events expected to multiply
Galapagos iguanas shrink to survive El Niņo
Rebuilding the ocean's rain forests
Reef check paints a sad picture

RELATED SITES:
NOAA
The Global Coral Reef Alliance
Year of the Ocean
Reef Check

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