Photos: Caribbean Coral Reefs Took a Beating This Summer

By Eliza Strickland | October 15, 2010 2:46 pm

In the western Caribbean, some coral reefs have turned into eerie white ghost towns.

Scientists with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have documented a major bleaching event in the reefs near Panama and the island of Curaçao. Such bleaching occurs when a reef loses the tiny photosynthetic algae that typically live in the coral, providing it with food (and color). Bleaching occurs when coral is under stress, most typically due to higher ocean temperatures. And this was a hot summer.

Abnormally warm water since June appears to have dealt a blow to shallow and deep-sea corals that is likely to top the devastation of 2005, when 80% of corals were bleached and as many as 40% died in areas on the eastern side of the Caribbean. [ScienceNOW]

The rise in water temperature doesn’t have to be dramatic, just steady. In 2005, the water near the Virgin Islands was about 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average from August to November, and coral reefs in the eastern Caribbean suffered. This year, slightly higher ocean temperatures spread over a much broader area in the western and southern Caribbean. Near Panama, researchers reported that water temperatures reached a high of 7 degrees Fahrenheit above average in mid-September.

Hurricane season may be enhancing the current problem, resulting in low water circulation in the southwestern Caribbean and thus creating a “warm pocket” of water along the coasts of Panama and Costa Rica, the researchers speculate. [MSNBC]

Coral reefs can recover from bleaching, but there’s not guarantee–and as long as the reefs are pale shadows of their former selves, they’re in trouble. Bleaching impairs the coral’s ability to grow and reproduce, and the reefs can die altogether.

Related Content:
80beats: 2010’s Hot Summer Took a Toll on Arctic Ice, Walruses, and Coral
80beats: Endangered Species Meeting Brings Good News for Elephants, Bad News for Coral
80beats: Climate Change & Disease Have “Flattened” Caribbean Coral Reefs
80beats: Rare Corals’ Crossbreeding Ways May Stave off Extinction
80beats: In a More Acidic Ocean, Coral Reef “Skeletons” May Crumble

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts
  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    It’s almost as if there is some global shift or “change” if you will in climate . . . oh but I’m just talking crazy =)

    ~Rhaco

  • Darius

    Global ‘shifts’ and ‘changes’ in ‘climate’ have been occuring for many millenia. It’s only now that humans are scaring other humans and crying about the potential appocalypse.
    I’m not saying we should keep polluting like we do… but enough already… take a breath and calm down. Earth isn’t the only planet in our solar system currently undergoing ‘global warming’.

  • Susan Durham

    Global shifts and changes have happened not only for millenia, but since the big bang. The point is can we, with our big brains and self-awareness avoid the fate of the dinosaurs? Evidently not, with so many of us with our heads stuck in the ground! Other planets may also be warming, but we DON’T LIVE ON THOSE! Sure, Earth will be here, and if, out of flagrant stupidity, we make it into a place we can no longer tolerate, then we too will die off, and eventually there will be other evolutionary processes that may one day again produce sentient life, but can’t we avoid killing ourselves off? Not if our priority is to calm down.

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    Global shifts and changes have happened not only for millenia, but since the big bang.

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    sentient life, but can’t we avoid killing ourselves off? Not if our priority is to calm down.

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