Hawaii on Verge of Worst Coral Bleaching in History as Water Temperatures Soar

Written by Lorraine Chow and reposted with permission from EcoWatch

Hawaii’s majestic coral reef, which makes up roughly 85 percent of all coral reefs in the country, could be entering a perilous state. The state’s corals could experience the worst bleaching its history this year as surrounding water temperatures rise at abnormal rates, scientists warn.

Water temperatures around Hawaii are currently about 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, Chris Brenchley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, told the Associated Press.

It appears that this year’s especially warm waters are already causing harm to Hawaii’s precious coral. Ruth Gates, the director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told Buzzfeed that on a recent trip to see the corals, about 10 percent were white.

She told Buzzfeed that climate change and local conditions, such as plenty of sun, are to blame for higher-than-usual water temperatures.

According to the AP, bleaching has been spotted in Kaneohe Bay and Waimanalo on Oahu and Olowalu on Maui. On the Big Island, bleaching is reported from Kawaihae to South Kona on the leeward side and Kapoho in the southeast.

Courtney Couch, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told the AP that an entire mile and a half of reef on the eastern side of Lisianski Island was essentially dead.

The coral further out from the atoll handled the warm temperatures better, she added.

These current sightings follow earlier warnings from NOAA, which predicted a severe coral bleaching event from August to October 2015 in Hawaii.

In the tweet below from Dr. Mark Eakin, a coral reef specialist and coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, you can see that most of Hawaii is now at coral bleaching Alert Level 1. (Florida, by the way, is faring even worse).

Of particular concern, since many of Hawaii’s corals are still recovering from last year’s mass bleaching, a second year of warm temperatures would only cause more stress to the organisms.

“You can’t stress an individual, an organism, once and then hit it again very, very quickly and hope they will recover as quickly,” Gates told the AP.

Gates also explained to Buzzfeed that this year’s conditions are “unprecedented” and “very worrying.”

“I’m struggling to find an example where we’ve had two back to back bleaching events,” she added. “This double whammy is not really common.”

Coral bleaching not only increases the corals’ risk for disease and/or death, it also has a serious effect on the fish and other marine life that live in the reefs, as well as local fishing and tourism operations. While bleaching isn’t the main culprit of reef decline, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in 2005 alone due to a massive bleaching event, NOAA pointed out.

“You go from a vibrant, three-dimensional structure teeming with life, teeming with color, to a flat pavement that’s covered with brown or green algae,” Gates told the AP. “That is a really doom-and-gloom outcome but that is the reality that we face with extremely severe bleaching events.”

So what can we do to help? In the video below, aquatic biologist Brian Neilson, who works for Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, explains that bleached coral can recover, and we can all help make a difference.

“Climate change impacts threaten coral reef ecosystems by increasing ocean temperatures, storm activity, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise … Therefore it is essential that we not only reduce emissions, but take urgent actions to reduce the impact of elevated greenhouse gases on coral reef ecosystems,” NOAA advises.

If you’re in Hawaii, submit any sightings of bleached coral to the state’s “Eyes on the Reef“ website.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

71 comments

Marija M
Marija M8 months ago

:( tks

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O8 months ago

th

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O8 months ago

sad

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R8 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

The human race is the stupidest creature that ever lived on this earth. No other living being destroyed and polluted its own habitat, ONLY HUMANS .... earth, air, water

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Cathleen K.
Cathleen K3 years ago

And yet, there's nothing going on with the climate, or at least nothing that has anything to do with us!, according to virtually all of the GOP contenders for the nomination. Carly Fiorina admits that there's a problem but says the US can't lead the way because China and India are bigger polluters - the fact that the majority of the pollution in the atmosphere that's causing the damage came from here and Europe be damned! I mean, it's not like we can do anything to influence their behavior - like slap their exports with carbon taxes that make them non competitive with the stuff produced in the first world - right? We couldn't possibly go back to the conditions that defined the world economy for centuries until about 25 years ago - trade between first world countries - because that would cost the plutocrats who moved manufacturing to Asia too much money. Oh, wait...

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Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A3 years ago

This planet is dying thanks to mankind. When will the rest of the world see it?? So many people are in denial. They think that things will continue forever. I go to the grocery story and notice that 4 and 5 children and at least 2 mini vans per family is the norm in this yuppie neighborhood. What do they think those children will be eating in 10 years when the oceans are dead and our farmland is too drought stricken to grow crops?

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Ruhee B.
Ruhee B3 years ago

What with the numerous sorts of pollution, over fishing, warming and acidification - ocean life doesn't stand a chance! Something that has barely been studied is the impact of all this on plankton - if that gets killed off then everything else will too. Mind you, humans are already doing a pretty good job of killing everything off all on their own!

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Oh-oh! Time to change things in Hawaii.

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