The Caribbean Sea and Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s east coast offer some of the most dramatic displays of coral reefs in the world. They have also suffered record die-offs, according to U.S. officials who released a report in April on the recent decline of coral reefs. One-third of monitored sites in the Caribbean have also died recently.
“It’s an unprecedented die-off,” National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Miller reported to the Associated Press. “The mortality that we’re seeing now is of the extremely slow-growing reef-building corals. These are corals that are the foundation of the reef. We’re talking colonies that were here when Columbus came but have died in the past three to four months.” Miller said these corals grow at a rate of half an inch per year, making recovery all but impossible.
“We haven’t seen an event of this magnitude in the Caribbean before,” said Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch.
In Australia, a similar report is just as sobering. A team of international scientists, including from NASA and Australian universities, used real-time satellite data to compare current ocean temperatures with past years.
“Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest and most complex system of reefs in the world, and like so many of the coral reefs in the world’s oceans, it’s in trouble,” said oceanographer Gene Carl Feldman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington, D.C. A spike in temperatures has scientists worried.
“The Great Barrier Reef is an icon, and we just want to know what we can do to save it,” wrote Scarla Weeks, a researcher with the University of Queensland. “Sea surface temperatures over the last five months are actually higher in certain locations now than they were in 2002 when we witnessed the worst bleaching incident …”
Weeks regularly downloads NASA MODIS data that show her the extent of and where the coral bleaching is expanding. “We’re not able to do this kind of broad-reaching work without NASA. With this satellite data delivery service we’re able to observe what’s happening in the ocean in ways we’ve never been able to before,” she said.
Official U.S. Government climatic reports, which euphemistically describe global warming as “climate change,” acknowledge that warmer ocean temperatures cause coral bleaching.