Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Coral Die-Off


2005 saw the largest coral die-off ever recorded in the Caribbean, about a third of all coral in some study areas. In February NOAA reported 96 percent of lettuce coral, 93 percent of the star coral and nearly 61 percent of the brain coral in the St. Croix region had "bleached" (died). Coral provides a breeding ground for many species of fish and is the backbone of tourist and fishing industries.

It should be noted that last year saw unprecedented high temperatures in the Caribbean waters which produced a record number of hurricanes. And while things are bad in the Caribbean, they are worse in the Indian and Pacific oceans which have seen even greater loss of coral. Professor M. James Crabbe, an expert on corals world wide stated. €œIf you want to see a coral reef, go now, because they just won’t survive in their current state.

From the Environmental News Network:

It's an unprecedented die-off,€ said National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Miller, who last week checked 40 stations in the Virgin Islands.

“The mortality that we're seeing now is of the extremely slow-growing reef-building corals,€ Miller said. €œThese are corals that are the foundation of the reef colonies that were here when Columbus came by have died in the past three to four months.

Sunday, Edwin Hernandez-Delgado, a University of Puerto Rico biology researcher, found a colony of 800-year-old star coral that towered more than 13 feet high had recently died in waters off Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, Tyler Smith, coordinator of the U.S. Virgin Islands Coral Reef Monitoring Program, dived at a popular spot for tourists in St. Thomas and saw an old chunk of brain coral, about 3 feet in diameter, that was at least 90 percent dead from the disease called white plague.

We haven'€™t seen an event of this magnitude in the Caribbean before,€ said Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Watch.

For the Caribbean, it all started with hot sea temperatures, first in Panama in the spring and early summer, and got worse from there.

New NOAA sea-surface temperature figures show the sustained heating in the Caribbean last summer and fall was by far the worst in 21 years of satellite monitoring, Eakin said.

€œThe 2005 event is bigger than all the previous 20 years combined,€ he said. It remained hot for weeks, even months, stressing the coral.

CNN Science and Space reports similar findings here.

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