FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Matt Stout, Patricia Viets
Scientists from the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working with two Australian groups to improve coral reef monitoring and help promote early warnings of future bleaching events, NOAA announced today. The scientists are making extensive use of satellites and computerized expert systems.
The reefs are extremely important and fragile ecosystems. They thrive as long as temperatures remain at or below certain temperatures for a given site. An increase of one or two degrees above the usual maximum temperatures can be deadly to these animals. The temperature range for corals to thrive varies from site to site by only a few degrees. While many corals normally recover from short bleaching events, long-term or frequent bleaching may severely weaken the corals, leaving them more vulnerable to disease, damage or death.
Current NOAA satellite and expert system observations indicate that temperature conditions around the Great Barrier Reef have been close to the bleaching threshold temperatures since mid-January. But, scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS), the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), and reef users have not reported any major bleaching so far.
Al Strong of NOAA's National
Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service uses
satellites to measure sea surface temperatures and identify HotSpots,
warmer- than-usual areas in the oceans where bleaching could
take place. Strong has been able to predict coral reef bleaching
events over large ocean areas since 1997.
Jim Hendee of NOAA's Atlantic
Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fla.,
has developed a suite of computerized "expert systems"
"Coral reefs -- the rainforests of
the sea -- are some of the oldest and most biologically diverse
ecosystems on earth," NOAA Administrator D.
James Baker said. Baker will address attendees at the second
Coral Reef Task Force meeting on Maui, Hawaii, later this week.
"Important assets to local and national economies, they
produce fisheries for food, materials for new medicines, and
income from tourism and recreation, as well as protect coastal
communities from storms."
About 50 countries have reported coral bleaching to some degree in their reefs since 1997, Strong reports. He is among several authors who are publishing these unprecedented results, primarily over the Eastern Hemisphere coral reefs, in an upcoming issue of the scientific journal Ambio. During the El Niño of 1982-83, large areas of coral reefs around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef, were severely damaged by high water temperatures associated with coral bleaching.
Bleaching and other problems facing coral
reefs were discussed at the first meeting of the Coral Reef Task
Force in Key Biscayne, Fla., last October. The Coral Reef Task
Force was created by an executive order signed June 11, 1998,
by President Clinton.
Movie/animations are posted at: http://manati.wwb.noaa.gov/orad
Maps showing the annual distribution of bleaching from 1969 through 1997 are posted at: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~goreau