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Experts raise concerns after observing troubling event happening in coral reefs across the world: 'I am very worried'

Bleaching has already cost the world 14% of our coral reefs between 2009 and 2018.

Bleaching has already cost the world 14% of our coral reefs between 2009 and 2018.

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists are concerned about trends in coral reef health caused by widespread symptoms of global warming.

According to Reuters, researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have amplified research that shows 60.5% of the world's coral reefs have been experiencing dangerous heat stress.

What's happening

The majority of coral reef systems on planet Earth are experiencing bleaching. According to the NOAA, bleaching occurs when heat stress causes coral to lose its characteristic color and become a ghastly shade of white. Not only is it visually jarring, but it means that affected coral is more vulnerable to starvation and disease.

"I am very worried about the state of the world's coral reefs," said Derek Manzello, the NOAA's Coral Reef Watch coordinator, per Reuters. "We are seeing (ocean temperatures) play out right now that are very extreme in nature."

This phenomenon is all the more concerning because, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme, bleaching has already cost the world 14% of our coral reefs between 2009 and 2018. 

The list of reasons to protect coral reef systems is vast. According to the British Natural History Museum, they provide a home for more than 25% of marine life, contribute over $6 trillion to the global economy through their support of various industries, and provide crucial protection against shoreline degradation. Their contribution to marine ecosystems and support of life on earth generally cannot be overstated.

Why is this happening?

Bleaching is caused by heat stress, and unprecedented ocean temperature levels are caused by global climate trends.

The impact of El Niño — a weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean that raises temperatures across the planet, including ocean temperatures — is lingering in 2024, and it has already made the situation worse. It is known to contribute to coral bleaching, as well as wildfires, drought, and the spread of disease. According to researchers at Yale, El Niño years are becoming more frequent and intense as an effect of rising global temperatures. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, global temperatures have risen about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century as a result of human-induced climate heating. This increase in ocean temperatures has significantly contributed to coral bleaching.

What is being done about coral bleaching?

The EPA provides a litany of actions individuals can take to lessen coral bleaching, ranging from minimizing the use of fertilizers to avoiding the purchase of living coral from aquariums.

However, given that these agencies are attributing the substantial increase in coral bleaching to human-induced temperature increases, it seems the solutions might be of a more industrial size. A reduction in coral bleaching will have to start with state action and corporate accountability.

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