3-year global coral bleaching event over, but still bad

June 19, 2017 by Seth Borenstein
In this Oct. 26, 2015 file photo, fish swim over a patch of bleached coral in Hawaii's Kaneohe Bay off the island of Oahu. American scientists announced Monday, June 19, 2017, that a record global coral reef bleaching event has finally ended after three deadly years. About three-quarters of the world's delicate coral reefs were damaged or killed by hot water in what scientists say was the largest coral catastrophe in severity, time and amount of area affected. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

A mass bleaching of coral reefs worldwide has finally ended after three years, U.S. scientists announced Monday.

About three-quarters of the world's delicate coral reefs were damaged or killed by hot water in what scientists say was the largest coral catastrophe.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a global bleaching event in May 2014. It was worse than previous global bleaching events in 1998 and 2010.

The forecast damage doesn't look widespread in the Indian Ocean, so the event loses its global scope. Bleaching will still be bad in the Caribbean and Pacific, but it'll be less severe than recent years, said NOAA coral reef watch coordinator C. Mark Eakin.

Places like Australia's Great Barrier Reef, northwest Hawaii, Guam and parts of the Caribbean have been hit with back-to-back-to-back destruction, Eakin said.

University of Victoria, British Columbia, coral reef scientist Julia Baum plans to travel to Christmas Island in the Pacific where the coral reefs have looked like ghost towns in recent years.

"This is really good news," Baum said. "We've been totally focused on coming out of the carnage of the 2015-2016 El Nino."

While conditions are improving, it's too early to celebrate, said Eakin, adding that the world may be at a new normal where reefs are barely able to survive during good conditions.

Eakin said coral have difficulty surviving water already getting warmer by man-made climate change. Extra heating of the water from a natural El Nino nudges coral conditions over the edge.

About one billion people use coral reefs for fisheries or tourism. Scientists have said that coral reefs are one of the first and most prominent indicators of global warming.

"I don't see how they can take one more hit at this point," Baum said. "They need a reprieve."

Explore further: High temperatures, not ocean acidification, is threatening the growth of coral

Related Stories

NOAA: Warm oceans cause concern of coral bleaching (Update)

July 6, 2015

Abnormally warm ocean temperatures are creating conditions that threaten to kill coral across the equatorial Pacific, north Pacific and western Atlantic oceans, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday.

El Nino prolongs longest global coral bleaching event

February 23, 2016

Global warming and the intense El Niño now underway are prolonging the longest global coral die-off on record, according to NOAA scientists monitoring and forecasting the loss of corals from disease and heat stress due to ...

Recommended for you

The dust storm microbiome

June 27, 2017

Israel is subjected to sand and dust storms from several directions: northeast from the Sahara, northwest from Saudi Arabia and southwest from the desert regions of Syria. The airborne dust carried in these storms affects ...

Collapse of the European ice sheet caused chaos

June 27, 2017

Scientists have reconstructed in detail the collapse of the Eurasian ice sheet at the end of the last ice age. The big melt wreaked havoc across the European continent, driving home the original Brexit 10,000 years ago.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.