AS SEA TEM­PER­A­TURES RISE, THAI­LAND SEES CO­RAL BLEACH­ING

Bangkok Post - - COVER STORY -

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.

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