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Friday, January 8, 2016

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According to a report on washingtonpost.com, scientists say they are now watching the unfolding of a massive worldwide coral bleaching event, spanning the globe from Hawaii to the Indian Ocean. And they fear that thanks to warm sea temperatures, the ultimate result could be the loss of more than 12,000 square kilometers, or over 4,500 square miles, of coral this year - with particularly strong impacts in Hawaii and other U.S. tropical regions, and potentially continuing through 2016.

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The event is being brought on by a combination of global warming, a very strong El Nino event, and the so-called warm "blob" in the Pacific Ocean, say the researchers, part of a consortium including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as XL Catlin Seaview Survey, The University of Queensland in Australia, and Reef Check

Coral bleaching occurs when warm ocean waters - considerably warmer than corals evolved to live with for an extended period of time - leave the organisms stressed and cause them to banish the symbiotic algae that provide corals with both their color and also nutrients. Without them, corals turn white, and become very vulnerable - thus, following bleaching, coral die-off can occur. How much coral death happens depends on how much temperature stress the corals actually experience, and how prolonged it is.

Coral reefs comprise less than .1 percent of the ocean's total area. But they're vitally important both to ecosystems and to people who depend on them. "One in every four species of fish live on a coral reef, there are over a million species that live on coral reefs, at least two-thirds of them are pretty unknown to science," says Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who directs the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. "Coral reefs provide food and livelihood to 500 million people."

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