Friday, July 23, 2010

Widespread coral bleaching over the past year

Maribo's been quiet the past few months because of field work, other research, the Canadian summer and a major case of blog exhaustion. I may be inspired to write more on the exhaustion issue later, we'll see.

In the meantime: Last year, I mentioned that several parts of the Indo-Pacific were at risk of coral bleaching in the coming year. The same El Nino event that melted the Vancouver Olympics and weakened last year's Atlantic hurricane season, did indeed cause coral bleaching across the Central Equatorial Pacific from October through the spring. We're still putting together the data for Kiribati (home of this whimsical coral).

The Pacific since sloshed back towards more neutral or La Nina conditions, the unusual warmth has been pushed to the western Pacific and Asia, leading to bleaching in Thailand, Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia. Add it all up, and 2010, which the data shows may end up being the warmest or second year in the observed temperature record, may end up also having the most extensive bleaching since 1998.

The management response in Malaysia is impressive. The Department of Marine Parks has banned diving in several popular dive sites in order to give the reefs the best chance to recover (the Telegraph):

"We expect [the corals] to recover or at least improve." Mr Abdul Jamal said The Department of Marine Parks claimed the damaged coral was solely the result of rising sea temperatures and not tourism activities. 

However, Mr Abdul Jamal explained that by banning diving, the coral will be given time to regenerate naturally. The closures are likely to affect tourism revenue over the summer, but authorities argue the priority is to safeguard one of the country's main attractions – its coral reefs.

Will this ensure the coral reefs recover to the previous state? No, but it increases the odds. Short of covering the entire reef with a sheet, you can't really stop a bleaching event. But you can manage the system to encourage recovery. This is the type of management - of climate change adaptation - that many of us in the community have argued is necessary to help coral reefs survive the predicted warming over the coming decades.