Third Worldwide Coral Bleaching Event Underway

500 million people directly and indirectly depend on healthy coral reefs.

Healthy corals on the left and bleached corals on the right. Before and after a bleaching event. Photo by Catlin Seaview Survey
Healthy corals on the left and bleached corals on the right. Before and after a bleaching event. Photo by Catlin Seaview Survey

Corals are bleaching around the world in what scientists say is the third major global coral bleaching event recorded. The first major coral bleaching event occurred in 1998, when 16 percent of coral’s on the world’s coral reefs were killed. The second global coral bleaching event occurred in 2010, which like the 1998 event was caused by warm waters from El Niño, a phenomenon that brings super high ocean temperatures worldwide, drought in some parts of the world and heavy rains in other parts of the world.

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted a strong El Niño for this year and into 2016 and has announced that a third global bleaching event is underway. NOAA says that 38 percent of the world’s coral reefs will be negatively impacted by the bleaching event and more than 12,000 square kilometers of reef will be killed.

“We’ve been hearing worrying reports of bleaching from various places, and now the bad news is officially here, with worse news likely yet to come with the strengthening El Niño,” Nancy Knowlton, an expert on coral reefs with the Smithsonian Institution told The Washington Post. “No reefs that experience unusually warm waters are likely to escape unscathed, but reefs already suffering from overfishing and pollution may have a particularly rough time recovering, based on what we have learned from past bleaching events.”

Corals bleach when the waters in which they are accustomed to living become increasingly warm. They expel the symbiotic algae that live in the corals and die off, causing a chain reaction on the reef. While just 0.1 percent of the world’s ocean has corals, the reefs and atolls where corals live help to sustain more than 25 percent of all marine species. The XL Catlin Seaview Survey, which launched the website GlobalCoralBleaching.org estimates that the world’s coral reefs support the livelihood of 500 million people, and pegged a dollar figure of $30 billion that could be negatively affected by this bleaching event.

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