Temperature dip halts serious coral damage

| 06/11/2015 | 14 Comments
Cayman News Service

Scientists study Caymans coral reefs (file photo)

(CNS) The Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI), which has been monitoring coral bleaching around Cayman since June, has found that a potential devastation to local coral reefs due to the rise in ocean temperatures this summer was averted by a drop in sea temperature at the end of last month. In September sea temperatures passed 87 degrees F, the point at which coral bleaching begins. 

Assistant Director of Research at CCMI, Dr Kristi Foster, said the Caribbean has experienced prolonged high temperatures since 2009, causing bleaching around the region.

“Unexpected but welcome relief arrived in Little Cayman during early October in the form of storms and high winds that churned the water, cooling it down. This has halted the bleaching progress and we are hopeful that anything that has survived to this point will recover,” she said.

Different species have handled the event differently; lettuce corals, for example, are more susceptible and were most affected. Scientists have been particularly concerned about staghorn and elkhorn corals, which are already endangered, but research so far shows that they appear, around Little Cayman at least, to be stable at this point, with as many as 90% appearing to be still healthy.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists have been predicting this phenomenon for more than a year.  They had warmed that El Nino would bring steadily increasing temperatures, attributed to climate change, that would result in the third global coral bleaching event on record. This scenario has now been confirmed, with coral bleaching reported across the Caribbean, the North and South Pacific and the Indian Oceans since the summer of 2014.

CCMI, which is based at the Little Cayman research Centre, started to monitor coral bleaching with data loggers deployed at various depths around Little Cayman. Surveys will be conducted through next summer to gauge the extent of the bleaching event and recovery, CCMI said in a release Friday.

Coral bleaching is one of many threats and pressures on reefs the world over. Coral colonies are made up of thousands of genetically identical individuals called polyps. Polyps have microscopic, colourful algae, called zooxanthellae, living in their tissues that carry out photosynthesis and provide energy to their coral hosts, which helps reef-building corals create reef structures. Bleaching occurs when these symbiotic algae are expelled by the coral due to changes in water temperature, light or nutrients.

The pressure local reefs are under from bleaching is intensified by local fishing and coastal development. The combination of factors threatening the reefs is a major motivating factor in the Save Cayman campaign opposing government’s plans to dredge and destroy many acres of ancient coral reef in George Town.

With the coral already battling climate change, a decline in reef cleaning and supporting fish, as well as the destruction directly and indirectly from smaller scale coastal development, the potential loss of some 35-acres of ancient reef in and around George Town Harbour is devastating for the local reef system. With almost no hope of any meaningful relocation and the time it takes for new coral to form, the future survival of the reefs in Cayman, and in turn its tourism product, remain under serious threat.

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (14)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I remember this kind of climate change/coral bleaching scare in the waters off the Brac when I was diving out there in 1998 but 17 years on it seems to have passed by.

    The immediate issue here isn’t climate change but run off into the sea. Whether it’s spoil being dumped in the wrong places, effluent from the Turtle Farm or erosion caused by poorly regulated coastal work the fact is that’s what’s really killing the coral.

    Sadly climate change scare stories like this form a very convenient smokescreen and they simply allow the real culprits to hid behind it as an excuse.


  2. Anonymous says:

    A trifling reprieve perhaps. Meanwhile, there’s the growing problem of coral toxic nitrogen and phosphorus seeping into our coastal waters, a product of leaking septic tanks and poorly constructed septic wells.
    We have a local authority that prefers to ignore the issue and keep their heads planted firmly in the sand above the high water mark. Haven’t you heard sea level is rising?


  3. Anonymous says:

    May be we should protest the climate next


  4. Allahden says:

    We don’t need climate change, we can destroy nature all on our own. Praise be to Allahden.


  5. Anonymous says:

    In a nutshell, nature is cyclic and everything within ebbs and flows…naturally.
    Got it.

    Nevertheless, I see a spot of “global warming” was thrown in for consistency.


  6. Anonymous says:

    And cayman wants to destroy more coral voluntarily when this is and will be an ongoing event. 2016 and 2017 forecasts show even stronger El Niño events than this year. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Have a good think Cayman, does the dock look like an intelligent and well thought out plan? It’s starting to look more stupid by the minute. We need active preservation, not destruction. Loose the reefs and the tourists will mostly go too. Which bit don’t you get?


    • Anonymous says:

      Please excuse us all, what does building the dock have to do with all the other global stresses to coral worldwide. It only reinforces the view that why would anyone wish to waste the country’s money on relocating a very small amount of coral in GT harbour when all 53 miles of coral around Grand Cayman is under threat from Global warming and losses from coral bleaching. So do you really wish to preserve a little coral directly in front of our commercial port and obstruct all infrastructural development in the country to save some dying coral directly offshore our commercial port being the absolute life line to our country. ??????


      • SSM345 says:

        5:06, with our Environment being the only reason people come here initially, what’s the point of building the dock if the Environment is going to be destroyed from Global Warming?


  7. Anonymous says:

    are sea levels rising and if so by how much?
    i can never understand why this is never discussed in the cayman islands


  8. Reefer says:

    Coral schmoral, dig that junk up let’s get selling some overpriced watches to overweight cruise shippers!



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