Photo via Sarah Depper via Flickr Creative Commons
As much as 95% of the corals in the Philippines have suffered bleaching after the 2009-2010 El Niño event that boosted the temperatures in the Indian Ocean and waters off Southeast Asia during the beginning of this year. Warmer water is often responsible for bleaching (the die-off of symbiotic algae living on the corals) and we usually hear about corals impacted in the Caribbean. But such a massive bleaching as this in the Philippines is a rare and particularly distressing news item as the possibility for recovery of bleached corals is up in the air.
Monga Bay reports, "The bleaching has been observed at many other sites around the Philippines featuring mass mortality of corals including the coral triangle outside the Philippines. This environmental catastrophe will probably be considered the most damaging bleaching event ever recorded in the Philippines, surpassing the big one of 1998."
Bleaching doesn't necessarily mean certain death. However, if the algae doesn't grow back on the corals, they will die completely and the loss of other species that depend on healthy corals will quickly be felt. Still, even while the corals are trying to recover, the impact is felt in the overall health of reef ecosystems.
And as Monga Bay states, "Prior to this year's bleaching, it was estimated that about 85 percent of the reefs have been damaged or destroyed in the Philippines, now the current estimate is likely to be close to 95 percent."
The importance of coral reefs can't be understated. Not only are healthy reefs important for marine flora and fauna, but also for humans who depend on them for food and tourism. Coral reefs are worth about $172 billion to the world's economy, which is no chump change. A recovery from such a massive bleaching event is dependent on the care and consideration humans give to the reefs, since overfishing and pollution can hamper a come-back.
More on Coral Reef Bleachings
Malaysia Closes World-Famous Diving Sites to Save Coral Reefs
Coral Bleaching Creates a Vicious Cycle of Further Bleaching and Disease
Coral Can Recover from Climate Change Damage... In Marine Reserves
Melanin May Keep Corals Alive Through Climate Change