Scientists of the NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are ringing the alarm bell. If our oceans continue to warm at the current rate, they will affect 38% of the world’s corals by the end of the year. This is the worst threat ever.

The bleaching started around 1979 with 60 major events especially in 1997-1998 and in 2002. The current warming effect has been going on for over a year and predictions are it will continue in 2016. Corals can recover quite fast from mild bleaching if the exposure is not too long. But with long-term treats like this one, they simply don’t have the time to recover. Healthy corals grow between 0.8 and 80 mm per year.

Coral Bleaching occurs when corals are exposed to stressful conditions like higher water temperature.

Corals are very fragile and sensitive ecosystems. They can’t endure big changes in water temperature. The symbiotic algae living in the coral tissues give the corals their color. When the algae die, the corals turn white and become very susceptible for diseases.

All reefs are in danger but American reefs are especially in danger. The waters around Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are warming at an alarming rate and also the Hawaiian underwater ecosystem shows signs of coral bleaching. Not only is the warming water a threat, but also the frequent storms and currents like El Niño.

In the pacific, the Great Barrier Reef is also in danger. The first heat wave in 1998 killed between 5 and 10% of the reef. The current bleaching started in the summer of 2014 in the North Pacific, spreading to the South-Pacific and Indian Ocean and it has now reached the Caribbean Sea.

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When the reefs are dying, fish lose their habitat.  When small fish die, the bigger fish lose their prey and eventually die also.  This domino-effect affects all sea-life. The imbalance between corals and algae cause certain fish species to die and others to thrive abnormally. Reefs also form a protection barrier for the coasts in case of storms.

Apart from the global warming, corals are also suffering from

  • Pollution of the water by herbicides and chemicals
  • Unsustainable fishing techniques, like cyanide and dynamite fishing
  • Changes in sea level due to global warming
  • Increased exposure to UV-light

When the coral reef is dead, this will eventually have an effect on all life on earth. It is no longer 5 to 12, it’s already 5 past 12.