Fwd: [cepnews_rcu] Caribbean reefs ailing from bleaching, disease
- Dear Colleagues,
Sorry for any repeat posting.
>By Jim Loney
>MIAMI (Reuters) - Deadly diseases are attacking coral reefs across the
>Caribbean Sea after a massive surge of coral bleaching last summer, a
>two-pronged assault that scientists say is one of the worst threats to the
>region's fragile undersea gardens.
>The attack, which is killing centuries-old corals, is the result of
>unusually hot water across the Caribbean region that some scientists argue
>is a consequence of global warming.
>Coupled with a recent bleaching event that whitened and weakened coral on
>Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean epidemic has biologists
>fearing for the future of the habitats that serve as spawning grounds,
>nurseries, tourist attractions and, some believe, alarm systems for the
>health of the oceans.
>A catastrophic loss of corals, which grow in vivid colonies often likened
>to flower gardens, could be a body-blow to the Caribbean islands'
>multibillion-dollar tourism industry, which sells scuba, snorkeling and
>fishing along with sun and sand.
>The unprecedented assault started last summer with some of the highest
>water temperatures on record in the Caribbean, which caused coral to
>bleach from Panama to the Virgin Islands. Hot water stresses corals,
>causing the tiny animals to expel their symbiotic algae, which give corals
>their bright colors.
>Scientists believe bleaching weakens corals, leaving them susceptible to
>disease. In some Caribbean locations, 90 percent of corals were bleached,
>according to reef monitors.
>Coral can recover from bleaching when the water cools and the algae return
>to their hosts. But last year's bleaching event was followed by a
>devastating attack of black band disease, white plague and other ailments.
>"It's one of the worst we've ever seen in the Caribbean," said Dr. Mark
>Eakin, coordinator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
>Administration's Coral Reef Watch.
>SITUATION COULD WORSEN
>Researchers are uncertain how widespread the disease outbreak is and they
>fear it could get worse as the waters warm again this summer. Some
>preliminary observations in the British Virgin Islands show mortality of
>20 percent to 25 percent, Eakin said.
>In the U.S. Virgin Islands, disease has killed some of the slow-growing
>corals, like brain and star corals, that build a reef's foundation, said
>Jeff Miller, a biologist with the National Park Service.
>"At one of the study sites near St. John ... the preliminary results show
>about a 30 percent loss of coral cover," he said.
>The Caribbean contains two of the longest reefs in the world -- the Belize
>reef, which ranks behind only the Great Barrier Reef, and the Florida Keys
>reef, which stretches beyond the length of the 110-mile island chain.
>Billy Causey, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine
>Sanctuary, said bleaching was less severe on the Keys reefs because the
>area was hit by a swarm of hurricanes, which gain their power by drawing
>energy from warm sea water.
>Divers have seen some plague and black band disease on the Keys reefs but
>it has caused less damage than on the Caribbean reefs, he said.
>While some scientists decline to link record high water temperatures to
>human-induced global warming because they have relatively few years of
>good records from which to draw conclusions, others are less reticent.
>"I'm calling it heat stroke. I'm calling it an underwater nightmare," said
>marine pathologist James Cervino, a professor at Columbia and Pace
>"If we don't control atmospheric CO2, we're putting the nail in the coffin
>right now," he said. "You're going to see isolated patches of sick, sorry
>corals, trying to hang on."
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