World’s north­ern­most co­ral reef lat­est to suf­fer bleach­ing

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

TOKYO — Bleach­ing has dam­aged the world’s north­ern­most co­ral reef in Ja­pan, a re­searcher said on Tues­day, the lat­est ex­am­ple of a global phe­nom­e­non sci­en­tists have at­trib­uted to high ocean tem­per­a­tures.

Healthy co­ral reefs pro­tect shores from storms and of­fer habi­tats for fish and other marine life, in­clud­ing eco­log­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant species.

Af­ter co­ral dies, reefs quickly de­grade and the struc­tures that co­ral build erode. While co­ral can re­cover from mild bleach­ing, se­vere or long-term episodes are of­ten lethal, ex­perts say.

About 30 per­cent of the co­ral reef off the coast of Tsushi- ma is­land in Ja­pan, which lies in the tem­per­ate zone some 1,000 kilo­me­ters south­west of Tokyo, suf­fered bleach­ing when Hiroya Ya­mano’s re­search team ob­served the area last De­cem­ber.

There was large-scale co­ral bleach­ing in Ja­pan’s sub­trop­i­cal Ok­i­nawan chain of is­lands last sum­mer, said Ya­mano, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Bi­ol­ogy and Ecosys­tem Stud­ies at Ja­pan’s Na­tional In­sti­tute for En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies.

“Re­cently co­ral in Ok­i­nawa were tak­ing refuge in waters with lower tem­per­a­tures, ex­pand­ing their habi­tat range to (waters off ) Kyushu, Shikoku and Hon­shu,” he said, re­fer­ring to three of Ja­pan’s four main is­lands.

“But now co­ral in refuges are threat­ened ... the sit­u­a­tion is se­ri­ous,” he said.

Since 2015, all trop­i­cal co­ral reefs have seen above-nor­mal tem­per­a­tures, and more than 70 per­cent ex­pe­ri­enced pro­longed high tem­per­a­tures that can cause bleach­ing.

Early in 2017, the rise in water tem­per­a­ture caused sig­nif­i­cant bleach­ing in the Great Bar­rier Reef in Aus­tralia for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year and also in Amer­i­can Samoa, which was se­verely af­fected in 2015.

The US Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion said last month that co­ral reef bleach­ing may be eas­ing af­ter the three years of high

Re­cently co­ral in Ok­i­nawa were tak­ing refuge in waters with lower tem­per­a­tures.” Hiroya Ya­mano, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Bi­ol­ogy and Ecosys­tem Stud­ies

ocean tem­per­a­tures, the long­est such pe­riod since the 1980s.

Its ex­perts said satel­lite data and other anal­y­sis showed wide­spread bleach­ing was no longer oc­cur­ring in all three ocean basins — At­lantic, Pa­cific and In­dian -- “in­di­cat­ing a likely end to the global bleach­ing event”.

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