NOAA 2001-058
Contact: Pat Viets


It sounds like the ideal occupation – bobbing around in the warm Caribbean waters and looking at coral reefs. That's exactly what a 15-foot buoy will be doing, but its observations will provide a critical link in an early warning system developed by scientists at the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to alert them of coral reef bleaching.

Already about 27 percent of the world's coral reefs are gone. The single largest cause is massive climate-related bleaching that, in just nine months in 1998, destroyed about 16 percent of the world's reefs.

The first of a series of buoys in the Coral Reef Early Warning System, the device will measure environmental characteristics, such as air temperature, wind speed and direction, and ultraviolet radiation and send these measurements, via satellite, to a receiving station at NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami. Each of these measurements will be monitored by specialized computer programs that signal scientists when conditions are conducive to coral bleaching – a serious state resulting in reef-building corals expelling the algae that give them their color. Bleaching can lead to mass coral mortality.

"Once the buoy hits the water, its first mission will be to monitor the effects of UV radiation and abnormally warm water temperatures on mass bleaching of coral reefs, two well-known causes of bleaching, "said Jim Hendee, of AOML.

The ocean temperature data will also be used to validate remotely sensed ocean temperatures from NOAA's HotSpot program, developed by Al Strong of NOAA's National Environmental, Satellite, Data, and Information Service. HotSpot satellite products predict where bleaching may occur because of abnormally warm ocean temperatures. Together, Hendee's and Strong's efforts make up NOAA's new Coral Reef Watch program for predicting and understanding coral bleaching.

The debut buoy, the R/V Kristina, was named for the director of NOAA's Florida laboratory – Kristina Katsaros, the donor of the buoy. The buoy consists of a platform with a 12-foot tower in the center. Instruments are located from the top of the tower to 3 feet under the water.

The buoy will be deployed at the Rainbow Gardens Reef, near NOAA's Caribbean Marine Research Center at Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas. It is the first in a series of CREWS buoys and stations planned for installation near all major U.S. coral reefs, including Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, American Samoa, and Guam.

For more information on NOAA's coral reef programs, visit:

To learn more about NOAA's HotSpot data, visit:

Find out more about the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory at:

Want to know more about NOAA?