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Coral Bleaching Crisis Reaches Thailand; What's Next?

Jun 07, 2016 10:24 AM EDT
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When sea temperature rises just a degree or more and stays that way for extended periods, the relationship between coral and algae begins to breakdown. The corals expel their algae, a process called bleaching.
(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Following the massive coral bleaching in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, more than 10 diving sites in Thailand shut down for the same reason.

According to reports, action is taken to protect the marine parks as the bleaching crisis continues in the country. The ban takes effect in certain areas of popular national parks of Similan and Phi Phi, as well as sites in Tarutao, Chao Mai, Chumphon, Phetra and most of Surin.

"The coral reefs are affected by unaware tourists--when they go diving they may touch or step on the reef. Closing those spots will help the reefs recover naturally," National Park officer director Reungsak Theekasuk told AFP.

The move to close the diving sites will affect the tourism industry in the country, but Reungsak believes the government made the right decision.

As reported by Taipeitimes, Thailand is a popular destination for divers with more than more than 3,000 kilometers of coastline, 

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), coral bleaching occurs when there is an increase in ocean temperature. Ocean temperature is affected by runoff and pollution, overexposure to sunlight and extreme low tides. When corals are stressed, algae--which have a symbiotic relationship with coral--abandon its host coral.

When algae leave, the coral is left exposed to the elements and becomes bleached and destroyed.

The global coral bleaching due to climate change threatens the whole world. There has been notable coral bleaching in the Lizard Island in Australia, Maldives, the Indian Ocean, Hawaii and Samoa.

Dr. Mark Eakin, the head of the U.S. government's Coral Reef Watch programme, told The Guardian that according to previous studies, coral bleaching would not occur until 2020s. Yet it has been happening back-to-back since 2014.

"This year is especially telling. In the past, big bleaching events happened pretty much during the course of a year. This current bleaching event started in mid-2014," he said.

Evidence suggests that by 2020, bleaching is predicted to become a yearly event.

At present, 500 million people worldwide rely on the so-called "rainforests of the sea" for food, protection and income. Reefs contribute approximately $29.8 billion to world economies each year, NOAA said.

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