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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 1:20 EDT

NOAA Concerned Over Possible Caribbean Coral Bleaching

September 23, 2010

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) experts are concerned that there could be massive coral bleaching in the Caribbean this year–perhaps on par with the bleaching that damaged over 80% of the basin region’s coral five years ago, according to a new study.

The NOAA Coral Reef Watch (CRW) monitoring system has determined that the above-average temperatures in the area in 2010 mean that there is “strong potential for bleaching in the southern and southeastern Caribbean through October,” according to a statement posted Wednesday to the organization’s website. Furthermore, NOAA notes that several scientists are already reporting coral bleaching at a handful of locations, both in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world.

“High temperatures cause corals to force out the symbiotic algae that provide them with food. This makes the corals appear white or ‘bleached’ and can increase outbreaks of infectious disease,” Dr. Mark Eakin, the director of the CRW program, said in a statement. “Temperatures are high in the Caribbean, and we expect this to continue. This season has the potential to be one of the worst bleaching seasons for some reefs.”

CRW satellites are reporting above-average sea-surface temperatures in the region, and according to NOAA, “Large areas of the southeastern Caribbean Sea are experiencing thermal stress capable of causing coral bleaching.” The southern and southeastern areas of the seas are most at risk for prolonged bleaching, which can ultimately result in the death of the coral reefs and the loss of an important marine life habitat–much like what happened in 2005, when 10% of the area’s reefs were destroyed.

Other locations are also being affected by the temperatures.

“A NOAA survey cruise just returned from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary where we saw serious bleaching,” Emma Hickerson, the sanctuary research coordinator for the Gulf of Mexico site–where “significant” bleaching has also been observed, according to NOAA. Hickerson added that “several species” were already bleached and that there were concerns that the sanctuary “could lose much” of their fire corals before the end of the year.

Image Caption: Bleached fire coral and christmas tree worm on top (Flower Gardens Bank bleaching 2010). Credit: NOAA, FGBNMS

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