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Massive Bleaching Killing Off Asian Coral Reefs

October 19, 2010

Coral reefs in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean are being wiped out by what scientists are calling the worst bleaching event to hit the area in more than a decade.

According to experts at Australia’s Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the bleaching event was the result of a massive pool of extremely hot water, which was swept into the ocean back in May. As a result, the algae with which the coral enjoy a symbiotic relationship have been lost, and the corals themselves have whitened and face death without the vital nutrients those algae provide.

“It is certainly the worst coral die-off we have seen since 1998.  It may prove to be the worst such event known to science,” Dr. Andrew Baird, a member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and a fellow at James Cook Universities, said in a statement. “So far around 80 percent of Acropora colonies and 50 per cent of colonies from other species have died since the outbreak began.”

Among the reefs affected by the bleaching are those stretching from the Seychelles in the west to Sulawesi and the Philippines in the east, including those in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. The event has also negatively impacted the area known as the Coral Triangle, which the Australian scientists called “the richest marine biodiversity zone on the planet” and “the ‘Amazon Rainforest’ of the seas” in a press release. In fact, they also report that the coral cover in the area for fall from 50% to 10% as a result of the bleaching.

“Although the Coral Triangle is the richest region for corals on Earth, it relies on other regions around its fringes to supply the coral spawn and fish larvae that help keep it so rich,” Dr. Baird said. “So there are both direct and indirect effects on CT reefs which will affect their ability to recover from future disturbance”¦ Also the reefs of the region support tens of millions of people who make their living from the sea and so plays a vital role in both the regional economy and political stability.”

While Dr. Baird said that it could take “up to two years for some fish species to be affected by the loss of coral habitat,” lower yields at fisheries and the loss of tourism from individuals who visit locations in the area in order to go SCUBA diving so they can view the coral reefs “could have major long-term effects on the local economy.”

“This is not just about warmer temperatures: it is also threatening the livelihoods of tens of millions of people and potentially the stability of our region,” he added.

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