Grim coral bleaching forecast for 2015
NOAA Scientists are forecasting major global coral bleaching problems this year.
Climate scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are predicting a grim year for coral reefs around the world.
They say the coral bleaching could be the most severe in five years.
The Administration's Coral Reef Watch Coordinator Mark Eakin and acting director of its Conservation Program, Jennifer Koss, told Koroi Hawkins they fear this year will see the third global coral bleaching phenomena of the last two decades.
MARK EAKIN: Now we are continuing to see warming in the Central and Southern Pacific Ocean right now stretching from Solomon Islands across to American Samoa and the concern based on our new four month outlook product is that this is going to continue and we are going to see major bleaching in 2015.
KOROI HAWKINS: What is coral bleaching?
ME: Corals are a combination of an animal with microscopic plants living inside their tissues. In combination the two of them build the beautiful limestone structures that make coral reefs. That relationship thought between the animal and the plant can break down at higher temperatures. Causing the corals to have to eject the algae when they start to become toxic. And when that happens it leaves the coral tissue clear and you can see straight through to the white skeleton underneath and that is the reason it is referred to as bleaching.
KH: And what does that mean for the whole marine ecosystem sort of that relies on corals?
ME: Well corals are the basis of the ecosystem they are much like trees provide the basis of an ecosystem in a forest and even provide the structure and habitat, corals do the same thing. So when the corals are injured like this then it causes the breakdown in the ecosystem. It then propagates through all of the fish all of the shellfish all of the organisms on that coral reef and has major impacts on people who depend on these resources.
KH: Can you do anything about it?
JENNIFER KOSS: I will jump in this is Jennifer. There is really not a lot to do about it when it happens globally. There are some very localised strategies that you could take. You could attempt to cool the water or shade the corals and maybe make a very small difference in a very small area but when it is at the global level like Mark is talking about here, there is not a lot to do to immediately change the situation. What we have done in the coral conservation program is attempt to alleviate and mitigate local stresses in the hopes that the corals will have enough natural resilience to withstand what Mark is talking about. So we try to abate land based sources of pollution and undue impacts from fishing.
KH: And based on your report on your findings what are you recommending or what action are you saying that governments or the world should be taking?
ME: On one hand we need to be addressing the source problem. We need to be reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases into the atmosphere. At the same time, we even need to be looking at reducing CO2 levels to below where they are now because they are already unhealthy for coral reefs. While we are doing that we need to be doing work to reduce the local stresses to make coral reefs more resilient so that they have an opportunity to survive until we can get the carbon dioxide under control.
KH: Sadly most of the countries where these coral reefs are most relied on like my own country Solomon Islands are poor and poorly resourced in terms of doing anything with marine protection or development and it would seem that they might be unable to do the, I presume costly exercises that are required to protect their coral.
ME: Oh actually not. It is amazing that many developing countries have taken on community based protection and established marine protected areas to very much involve the local communities. And when they do that, they take people who may have been previously reliant on fishing and may have been overfishing the reefs. They turn them into people who are now protectors of the reefs, who are rangers who are tour operators and start to move them into a non extractive economy that is actually beneficial to the local economy.
KH: So there is a positive side to this story?
JK: Absolutely, we found that once you get communities involved and they understand what is happening out on their reef it creates a sense of stewardship and no one is a better steward at their own resources than the people that live there. It is always way better to have people naturally compliant then to have to enforce the regulations.
KH: And this is where your work comes in Jennifer I presume?
JK: Absolutely we have a number of grant programs and fund a good number of communities who have created their own monitoring and sort of watch dog groups to see what is happening on their own reefs and are very quick to, to correct people who are taking actions that are deleterious to the reef.
KH: And what does this report mean for your stakeholders your partners on the ground or the front-line so to speak?
JK: Personally speaking I hope it is a report that is well received and heeded and understood so that the people who are in the power to change carbon emissions can do that.
KH: And just, if you extrapolate your data like going five, ten years, twenty years into the future will we have any coral reefs in 2050, 2060, 70?
JK: So what we are looking at is a change in coral reef ecosystems. We are going to lose a lot of corals we are going to lose some reefs but we have to work on identifying those corals that are better able to survive bleaching events and also to be able to identify those reefs that are better protected so that we can keep as many reefs around as possible in, through to the end of the century.
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