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.

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