Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Caribbean is Stressed Out... Again!

Extreme conditions such as warm sea-surface temperatures are fueling an active hurricane season, but they are taking their toll on the Atlantic basin's tropical coral reefs.

The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has thus far already been the most active since the epic 2005 season when several hurricanes plowed through the Caribbean and that year, like this year, thermal stress is taking its toll on the region's coral.

According to a statement released last week by NOAA, a strong potential for bleaching now exists in the Caribbean and it could be as severe as in 2005 when over 80 percent of corals bleached and over 40 percent died. Prolonged coral bleaching, can lead to coral death and the subsequent loss of coral reef habitats for a range of marine life.

This is more than likely attributed to extremely warm and unprecedented sea surface temperatures. High temperatures cause corals to force out the symbiotic algae that provide them with food. This makes the corals appear white or 'bleached' and can increase outbreaks of infectious disease. The decline and loss of coral reefs has significant social, cultural, economic and ecological impacts.

It is still too early to tell the long-term effect and severity of this year's coral bleaching but the 2005 bleaching event was the result of the largest, most intense thermal stress ever recorded in the Caribbean during the 25-year NOAA satellite record.

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