Caribbean Coral Die-Off Could Be Worst Ever
October 14, 2010
Scientists studying Caribbean reefs say that 2010 may be the worst year ever for coral death there. 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.
Bleaching occurs when crucial microorganisms leave coral reefs during stress. Corals, which shelter a quarter or more of all marine species, get bleached, and may die, after prolonged heating. A few weeks of water temperatures a few degrees above normal can be fatal. During the 2005 die-off, for example, water temperatures off the Virgin Islands rose just 3°C above the average in August-but stayed that way until November. "There has been little recovery in the Caribbean since," says reef specialist C. Mark Eakin of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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