Coral Die-off May Be the Worst Ever

CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 21 (UPI) — Huge swathes of coral in Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean reefs have died in what scientists say may be “the worst such event known to science.”

Scientists from the Australian Research Center and James Cook University say coral cover in the region could drop from an average of 50 percent to about 10 percent and will take years to recover, striking at local fishing and regional tourism industries, reported Thursday.

“It is certainly the worst coral die-off we have seen since 1998. It may prove to be the worst such event known to science,” Andrew Baird of the ARC said. “So far around 80 percent of Acropora colonies and 50 percent of colonies from other species have died since the outbreak began in May this year.”

One of the areas hit by the die-off is the richest marine biodiversity zone on the planet known as the Coral Triangle, which is bounded by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“Although the Coral Triangle is the richest region for corals on Earth, it relies on other regions around its fringes to supply the coral spawn and fish larvae that help keep it so rich,” Baird said. “So there are both direct and indirect effects on CT reefs which will affect their ability to recover from future disturbance.”

The bleaching event was triggered by a large pool of super-hot water moving into the eastern Indian Ocean region several months ago, shocking the corals and causing them to shed the symbiotic algae that nourish them, thereby losing color and “bleaching.”

If the corals do not regain their algae they starve to death, Baird said.

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