El Niño takes terrible toll on world’s coral
THEELNIÑO weather pattern that washed warm waters through the Pacific Ocean from 2014 through 2016 has wrought a terrible toll on coral reefs. It has been one of the strongest editions of what’s formally known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation. The Great Barrier Reef has been particularly hard-hit. Scientists confirmed in March that the largest bleaching has taken place along the GBR. In inland Southeast Asia, the resulting warm weather has dried up rivers such as the Mekong, and brought drought that may have caused as much as US$10 billion in damage. On the GBR, in a sur vey of 520 individual reefs that make up the northern section of the reef, the National Coral Bleaching Task Force from Australia discovered only four reefs that showed no signs at all of bleaching. The extent of the coral death spanned around 620 miles of reef that previously had been in excellent condition. Follow-up dives by scientists found that around half of the coral they observed had died. And it’s getting worse. “There is a good chance a large portion of the damaged coral will die,” said Terry Hughes, the director of the Center of Excellence for Coral Reef studies at James Cook University in Queensland, according to The New York Times. The warm water formed a belt across the globe, following the equator. Some parts of the world such as the North Pacific have been spared, but there is very little coral there. The effects of the warm water have been witnessed from Réunion and the east coast of Africa through Southeast Asia, passing through Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and onwards across the Pacific to Central America. We are now switching to El Niño’s cold-shouldered sister, La Niña. That brings waters that are 3 to 5 degrees Celsius colder than normal. While that will be a respite for the reefs, we are jumping from the fire into the ice. La Niña typically brings heavy rain in nations such as Southeast Asia and causes typhoons that, for instance, barrel into coastal parts of China.