FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ben Sherman
News Releases 2005
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A major coral bleaching event is underway
in the Caribbean, and may result in significant coral death in much
of the region, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists
confirmed today. Currently, the bleaching is centered in waters adjacent
to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Reports of bleaching have come in from the
Florida Keys and Texas’ Flower Garden Banks in the north, to Tobago
and Barbados in the southern Antilles, to Panama and Costa Rica in the
Coral bleaching is associated with a variety of stresses including increased sea surface temperatures. This causes the coral to expel symbiotic micro-algae living in their tissues – algae that provide corals with food. Losing their algae leaves coral tissues devoid of color, and thus appearing to be bleached. Prolonged coral bleaching (over a week) can lead to coral death and the subsequent loss of coral reef habitats for a range of marine life.
“NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program has really shown its value," notes Al Strong, NOAA's coral reef watch coordinator for satellite monitoring. "When combined with observations in the field, it has enabled state and local officials and dive operators to better track bleaching events and use this information to lessen human stress on the reef during this critical time."
Since early October, NOAA has issued Coral Reef Watch bleaching alerts for both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where thermal stress is at record levels. Thermal stress has reached Degree Heating Week (DHWs) values of over 15 at some locations. Each DHW represents one week of temperatures 1 degree C above the maximum highest monthly average. Accumulated over three months, DHWs above four are virtually always accompanied by considerable bleaching, whereas levels above eight are believed to present increased coral mortality and inability to recover.
According to Puerto Rican scientists, bleaching
is both wide spread and intense with colonies representing 42 species
completely white in many reefs. In our surveys, 85 to 95 percent of
coral colonies were bleached in some reef areas. Reefs in Grenada are
also bleached with close to 70 percent of colonies suffering impact
to some degree.
NOAA's Coral Reef Watch Satellite Bleaching Alert system automatically monitors for the thermal stress that gives rise to coral bleaching. Currently, the alert messages are available for 24 shallow coral reefs ecosystems around the world. Through collaborative efforts with the World Bank and Global Environment Facility, NOAA will expand these sites over the next several years to cover 24 selected regional sites in the Caribbean, 24 sites around Australia, 24 sites in SE Asia and 24 sites in the western Indian Ocean basin.
“The ability of NOAA’s new Coral Reef Watch Satellite Bleaching Alert to provide advance warnings is critically important,” said Tim Keeney, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and co-chair of the United States Coral Reef Task Force that will be meeting November 5-7 in Palau. “By alerting coral reef managers and reef users, it allows them to mobilize monitoring efforts, develop response strategies, and educate reef users and the public on coral bleaching and possible impacts on reef resources. This is a significant step forward in coral reef ecosystem management.”
The new Coral Reef Bleaching Alerts are a good example of the benefits that can be derived from an Integrated Ocean Observing System, an effort in which NOAA is taking a leadership development role.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S.
Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and
national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related
events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s
coastal and marine resources.
Composite 12-week Degree Heating Weeks thermal stress accumulations for all of 2005 (through September).
On The Web:
National Ocean Service: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov
NOAA Satellite and Information Service: http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov
NOAA Coral Reef Watch: http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov
NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program: http://www.coralreef.noaa.gov
NOAA’s Coral Reef Information System (CoRIS): http://coris.noaa.gov