A Hot Future for Corals in the Coral Triangle



Posted on 28 January 2012  | 
Coral bleaching due to temperature rise, Indo-Pacific Ocean.
Coral bleaching due to temperature rise, Indo-Pacific Ocean.
© WWF-Canon / Jürgen FREUNDEnlarge
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch recently came out with its Coral Bleaching Thermal Stress Outlook for February to May 2012, and it’s looking rather bleak for the Coral Triangle, with a high likelihood for intense coral bleaching in the Pacific, accompanied by ‘bleaching watch’ levels across the entire region. 

Satellite thermal images show a high coral reef mortality rate due to coral bleaching in the Southeast portion of the Coral Triangle, with intensity levels reaching as high as Alert Level 2 (see thermal image here).

This is a rather disconcerting forecast for the Coral Triangle—a region whose valuable marine resources serve as the very lifeblood of millions of people, mostly living in coastal communities who directly depend on coral reef resources for food and income.

Such an alarming scenario will directly affect the health of the Coral Triangle and its ability to nurture commercially-valuable fish stocks and other seafood products that fuel this region’s economy.

Coral bleaching is a phenomenon caused by global warming, which can cause ocean temperature to increase by 2°C above the long term average maximum. This causes algae living inside corals to be expelled and in the long term, corals turn white and die.

Bleaching occurs when coral reefs are stressed. Aside from increased sea temperatures, the causes of stress may include disease, pollution, sedimentation, cyanide fishing, changes in salinity, and storms.

As we start 2012 and now enter the year of the Water Dragon in the Chinese lunar calendar, I can’t help wondering whether this fiery Chinese Zodiac sign will indeed bring with it a deluge of equally fiery incidents for the marine environment. Hopefully not. But whether or not one believes in such horoscopes, one thing is certain, and that is the fact that our oceans will no longer be able to support our basic needs in the very near future, if nothing is done to reverse global warming today.

To help address such threats, WWF is working to create well-designed and appropriately-managed networks of marine protected areas to enhance the ocean’s resilience against climate change and prevent the impending collapse of marine biodiversity. Through new sustainable finance mechanisms and investments in climate adaptation, WWF likewise plans to support networks of marine sanctuaries and locally-managed conservation areas across the Coral Triangle.

One of the key ways to alleviating the impacts of coral bleaching is also through better fisheries management, which WWF is advocating across governments and the private sector, ensuring that only viable sites are given access to fishing and that the more sensitive areas are given time to recuperate from both man-made and natural impacts through the stronger enforcement and laws that allow for social, economic and environmental equity.

As an individual, there are many ways you can help. The most obvious way is to reduce your own carbon footprint by taking public transport, carpooling or even riding the bicycle for short distances. Being conscious of how you consume energy, not only in terms of electricity, but also through the multitude of products you consume is of tantamount importance as well. Remember that every product you buy takes account for so much energy in the form of production, packaging, and shipping.

So the more aware you are of the things you consume, the more ways you can explore alternative means to live your life without harming the environment.

The future of the Coral Triangle may be written on these forecasts but we certainly still have the power to change it, now.
Coral bleaching due to temperature rise, Indo-Pacific Ocean.
Coral bleaching due to temperature rise, Indo-Pacific Ocean.
© WWF-Canon / Jürgen FREUND Enlarge
Coral Bleaching Thermal Stress Outlook for Feb-May 2012
© NOAA Enlarge

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