Hawaii: coral bleaching due to increased water temperatures

09/13/2015 22:19

Hawaii is experiencing its second bout of mass coral bleaching as a direct effect of abnormally high ocean temperatures. This year, an aggressive El Niño has expanded the threat to the entire state.

Climate experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program have predicted severe coral bleaching conditions spanning from the waters surrounding Hawaii's northernmost island of Kure Atoll to its southernmost Hawaii Island.

"Coral bleaching is a result of a loss of algae living within the coral's tissue that provide them with energy and give them their colors," said aquatic biologist Brian Neilson from the Department of Land and Natural Resources. "This loss results in the pale or white 'bleached' appearance of the impacted corals. When corals bleach, they lose a supply of energy and become particularly vulnerable to additional environmental stress."

Researchers say the ocean temperatures surrounding the Hawaiian islands have increased between two and four degrees this summer. Bleaching is now being observed by scientists and residents.

"Just mass mortality!" researcher Courtney Couch explained to the state's KITV. "I've never seen something that fast happen at that level. It really is a wake up call."

Hawaii was also affected by coral bleaching last year, when most of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) were severely affected by the ocean's temperature. This year, however, the area is experiencing its worst reported bleaching event.

"Being extra careful to not damage corals, preventing pollution inputs, and using pono fishing practices can help corals to recover from this bleaching event," DLNR chair Suzanne Case said regarding response efforts. The organization has reportedly begun monitoring and partnering with state officials to properly respond to the predicament.

"If we fail to protect [coral reefs] and lose them, it could have tremendously negative impacts not only on the overall ocean ecosystem but on Hawaii's economy," Case said. UPI


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