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Fwd: [cepnews_rcu] Caribbean reefs ailing from bleaching, disease

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  • Lloyd Gardner
    Dear Colleagues, Sorry for any repeat posting. Lloyd.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 17, 2006
      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.
      >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."
      >© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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