Disappearing Coral Reefs?
After two consecutive years of above average water temperatures, it seems as if the Hawaiian coral reefs are disappearing! Currently, water temperatures are averaging about 4-6 degrees higher for the month of September. One of the main reasons for this sudden increase in water temperatures around the Hawaiian Islands could be due to El Niño. The El Niño is a circulatory oceanic pattern that occurs every 2 to 7 years and lasts for 9 to 12 months at a time, on average. The El Niño is characterized by unusually warm water currents that come up off the west coast of South America. However, since El Niño is a result of the ocean and atmosphere interacting, it affects weather all around the world.
Coral reefs are very dependent on their surrounding water temperature and nutrients to survive. Coral bleaching has become a major issue around the Hawaiian Islands and it occurs when the coral reef pushes out the algae that live inside, due to warmer waters, and in turn they become completely white in color. Hence, coral “bleaching.” Bleached coral is more vulnerable to outside elements and more likely to die. Without coral, there is a loss of natural habitats and protection for the underwater wildlife.
According to the director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Ruth Gates, coral can usually survive a period of bleaching, however when the warmer ocean temperatures affect it two years in a row it makes it more difficult. About 30-40 percent of the world’s coral reefs have died from bleaching over the last couple of years, according to Gates. With a lot of the reefs disappearing around the world, it is time to start actively protecting and appreciating this important part of the oceanic ecosystem.