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Coral Bleaching Gets Worse, Shows No Signs of Stopping

Jun 29, 2016 05:06 AM EDT

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that coral bleaching will continue through 2017.

While this year's coral bleachng incidence has already been dubbed the longest and worst in history, the following year will hit the reefs even harder.

According to the official report, coral bleaching will sweep the globe, with a 90-percent chance of continued bleaching in many parts of the Pacific Ocean and the United States, especially in Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida Keys, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. .

The El Niño weather pattern is one of the main reasons for the large amounts of bleaching. Experts fear that continued climate change will lead to more devastating bleaching occurrences.

"It's time to shift this conversation to what can be done to conserve these amazing organisms in the face of this unprecedented global bleaching event," said Jennifer Koss, NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program director.

"We have boots on the ground and fins in the water to reduce local stressors. Local conservation buys us time, but it isn't enough. Globally, we need to better understand what actions we all can take to combat the effects of climate change."

As of this time, major regions have already experienced bleaching. Reports revealed that 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has been wiped out already. The reefs in the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, the Red Sea and the Caribbean were not spared from bleaching as well.

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, coral bleaching occurs when the symbiotic relationship between corals and algae, which is responsible for the coral's photosynthesis, is disrupted.

The disruption is often caused by high ocean temperatures. In the incidence of coral bleaching, the corals are not necesarily dead; it just means that they are under stress.

If the heat stress does not persist for long, they can recover. Otherwise, they will eventually die.

Coral bleaching is a continuous pressing issue, not only because it affects the coral community but the entire ecosystem as well. When corals die, its standing value is reduced, thus populations that depend on the ecosystem services provided by the corals are faced with crises.

According to Reef Resilience, reef degradation from bleaching could cost from $20 billion in moderate bleaching cases to over $84 billion in severe situations. These are computed in net present value over a 50-year time horizon.

Losses to tourism are highest at between $10 billion to $40 billion losses, followed by fisheries ($7 billion to $23 billion) and biodiversity ($6 billion to  $22 billion).

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