2010 May Be Hardest Year on Record for Caribbean Corals

coral reef stress NOAA photo

Photo via NOAA

Heat stress on corals is major news lately, with several record-breaking bleachings of late. But scientists are still working to measure the impact of coral bleachings that occurred back in 2005 -- a year that caused record losses in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Reports show that over 80% of the corals surveyed that year experienced bleaching, and 40% of them died, making it the most severe bleaching ever recorded in the area. Corals can recover from bleachings if the conditions are right. But with repeated heatwaves or too much pollution and other issues adding stress to reefs, corals are far less likely to recover. That is why each bleaching is a big concern for conservationists.

According to NOAA, "Satellite-based tools from NOAA's Coral Reef Watch Program guided site selection for field observations conducted across the greater Caribbean region from June to October 2005... Coral bleaching occurs when stress causes corals to expel their symbiotic algae, or zooxanthellae. If prolonged or particularly severe, it may result in coral death."

bleached brain coral photo

Photo via cveldstra via Flickr Creative Commons

This survey showed that several species and locations experienced bleaching for the first time, indicating that warming ocean temperatures have had a wider-ranging effect.

"Heat stress during the 2005 event exceeded any observed in the Caribbean in the prior 20 years, and regionally-averaged temperatures were the warmest in at least 150 years," said C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D., coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch Program. "This severe, widespread bleaching and mortality will undoubtedly have long-term consequences for reef ecosystems, and events like this are likely to become more common as the climate warms."

carribean coral bleached photo

Photo via NOAA

The Caribbean has experienced high heat problems for the past several years. Last year NOAA reported that the Caribbean experienced temperature levels matching that of 2005, with possibly even warmer water to come in 2010. That means the organization may uncover even more severe bleaching in upcoming years, or a higher death rate of corals. Just last month, NOAA pointed out that water temperatures for 2010 are even higher than 2005 and massive die-offs could be expected as a result.

"The decline and loss of coral reefs has significant social, cultural, economic and ecological impacts on people and communities throughout the world. As the "rainforests of the sea," coral reefs provide economic services -- jobs, food and tourism -- estimated to be worth as much as $375 billion each year," reports NOAA.

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More on Coral Bleaching
Hot Temperatures Could Mean Worst Caribbean Coral Die-Off in History
Malaysia Closes World-Famous Diving Sites to Save Coral Reefs
Coral Species in Red Sea Barely Growing, Thanks to Global Warming

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