AS SEA TEMPERATURES RISE, THAILAND SEES CORAL BLEACHING
Mass coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef this year triggered international attention towards the severe impact of climate change. The worst-ever bleaching event was caused by the El Nino climate cycle that began around the middle of 2014. Two-thirds of corals in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef died.
Bleaching is caused when water is too warm, forcing corals to expel the algae living in their tissues and turning them white.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported earlier this year that bleaching had occurred in a greater area than ever before, stretching from the South Pacific to the Caribbean.
In the middle of this year, the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources recorded high sea temperatures of between 32 and 33 degrees Celsius in many coastal areas. The highest temperature for Thai waters this year was recorded on May 11 at 33.85C.
Severe bleaching was reported in the Gulf of Thailand. Ma Prao Island in Chumphon was the worst affected with up to 80% of its coral bleached.
Bleaching was also reported around Koh Samui. It spread to the Andaman Sea, affecting more than 50% of corals in Racha Yai, Racha Noi and Mai Ton islands off Phuket coast as well as parts of the Phi Phi Islands in Krabi and Hat Chao Mai National Park in Trang. Of the 81 sites that suffered bleaching, 48 were classified as critical.
Similar to the global situation, the NOAA survey shows that Thailand and Southeast Asia are likely to see more frequent and severe coral bleaching in years not associated with El Nino.
“As we have raised the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, most of the excess heat has been absorbed by the ocean. That raises the baseline temperature of the ocean, making it easier for smaller climate anomalies to
cause mass coral bleaching,” said Mark Eakin, coordina-tor of the NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch.
The 2016 bleaching has raised concerns for coral recovery among local scientists and biologists. Thailand experienced mass severe bleaching in 2010, damaging 70% of corals in the Andaman Sea. Between 30% and 95% of the affected coral died.
In some highly touristic areas such as the Phi Phi Islands, only 1% of bleaching corals could recover because they were disturbed by intense human activities and water pollution that worsened the problem from a warmer sea.
At a snorkelling spot on Koh Khai off Phangnga, only 20% of coral could survive six years after the 2010 bleaching. The island has welcomed more than 40 tourist boats a day in peak seasons. The boats throw their anchors onto the reef below. Tourists are reported to damage corals. is not Coral the stress only from factor tourism,that has pollution affected and coral overfishing recovery. Fossil fuels play a key role in increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.
“We must have a renewable energy revolution,” said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, adding that unless both climate change and local stress are addressed, those working in ocean-related tourism industries will not have careers within 20 years.
PRESERVATION: A boy collects dead pieces of coral to make a barrier designed to prevent waves from causing more erosion on Mae Nam beach on Koh Samui.
THE DAMAGE IS DONE: A foreign tourist snorkels in warm water near a large bleached coral exposed by the low tide off Koh Samet in Rayong.
UNDER THREAT: A Thai tourist stands on living coral while on a snorkelling boat trip in waters off Taru Island in the Gulf of Thailand.