Sign #326 of our Warming Planet: Massive Coral Bleaching Event in Indonesia
To anyone that has ever owned a reef aquarium, you know that high temperatures are coral killers. Most corals exist in a very stable temperature range, between about 70 and 85 degrees year-round. Colder temperatures are more tolerable, but once you start to hit about 85 degrees or so, corals begin to expel the zooxanthellae (symbiotic algae) that live within their cells and provide corals with their main source of energy. This is called coral bleaching…
Unfortunately, there is currently a huge coral bleaching event happening in Indonesia this summer:
One of the most destructive and swift coral bleaching events ever recorded is under way in the waters off Indonesia, where water temperatures have climbed into the low 90s, according to data released by a conservation group this week.
In May, the WCS sent marine biologists to investigate coral bleaching reported in Aceh — a province of Indonesia — located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. The initial survey carried out by the team revealed that more than 60 percent of corals in the area were bleached.
Corals form the basis of the ecosystem of the coral reef, so death of the coral often means that areas that bleached areas go from some of the highest concentrations of life on the planet to the equivalent of an aquatic desert. The disaster is not just to the ecosystem, since many destitute people owe their existence to the coral reefs:
“This is a tragedy not only for some of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs, but also for people in the region, many of whom are extremely impoverished and depend on these reefs for their food and livelihoods,” said WCS Marine Program Director Caleb McClennen. Coral reefs provide haven for fish and other creatures, and larger fish tend to congregate around reefs because they are good places to feed.
Indonesia is also not alone:
Of particular concern is the scale of the warmer ocean waters, which the NOAA website indicates has affected the entire Andaman Sea and beyond. Similar mass bleaching events in 2010 have now been recorded in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and many parts of Indonesia.
In many ways, ocean warming is more dire a sign of our warming planet than atmospheric warming, since large expanses of water are typically buffered from wide fluctuations in temperatures. The oceans are far less impacted by random weather events, simply due to the fact that it takes a lot more energy to warm water than air.
In terms of the world’s biodiversity, as well as the real human cost; this is a very real tragedy and another sign of our ever warming planet…