Coral reefs across the northern Pacific are experiencing a phenomenon known as bleaching because of climate change, experts have said. In recent months an El Nino weather pattern has occurred, raising temperatures and stressing delicate coral reefs.
Previous studies have also suggested that climate change is causing trillions of dollars’ worth of damage to coral reefs, disproportionately affecting small island states already threatened by rising sea levels. Cutting back deforestation, which is thought to have a greater impact than global warming, could save coral reefs, according to one piece of research.
Coral reef bleaching occurs when corals are stressed by changes in conditions, such as temperature, light or nutrients, and causes them to turn completely white. Whilst the phenomenon does occur naturally the effects of global warming, such as rising ocean temperatures, means that it is happening on a much larger scale.
The researchers explained that the Marshall Islands is experiencing its worst ever coral bleaching and the trend could continue across the entire northern Pacific.
Mark Eakin, manager of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch Programme, said, ”Major bleaching was seen in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Islands, the north-western Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), the Marshal Islands, and Kiribati.
“Thermal stress levels set new record highs in CNMI and the HWNI and we saw the first widespread bleaching event in the main Hawaiian Islands.”
Coral reefs in the Caribbean are also declining at an ‘alarming’ rate due to pollution, overfishing and the loss of grazers and could disappear within 20 years. However, experts argue the decline can be reversed.
Photo: Greg Grimes via Flickr