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Scientists To Study Coral Bleaching In Hawaii

August 23, 2010

Next month, scientists plan to monitor corals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for signs of bleaching.

The reefs become stressed and expel the algae that live inside them when temperatures are warmer than usual.  This causes the corals to lose their color.

Corals may die if this continues for extended periods, which could deprive fish of vital food and habitat.

Monument deputy superintendent Randall Kosaki said Friday that researchers will study coral in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument during September.

He said that they are due to leave for study aboard the research ship Hiialakai in a week.

Another research trip to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands earlier this month found that Kosaki measured surface temperatures of 82 to 84 degrees.  He said that was very warm, particularly for waters that far north.

Kosaki also said that there is currently a mass of warm water from Southeast Asia that is pushing into the North Pacific.

“It’s warm now. If it cools off we might not have a bleaching event. If it stays warm for an extended period we might have a bleaching event,” he told The Associated Press.

Kosaki said that bleaching would be likely if temperatures stay higher than normal for over two weeks.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands had bleaching take place in 2002 and 2004.  The islands are home to 69 percent of the coral under U.S. jurisdiction.

Warm waters in Southeast Asia have already harmed reefs this year in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

Marine biologists working for the Wildlife Conservation Society observed in may the coral bleaching off Indonesia’s Aceh province as surface waters in the Andaman Sea peaked at 93 degrees.

Subsequent surveys found that 80 percent of the bleached corals have died out.

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