1) Coral species can differ in their bleaching responses: the Acropora sp. on the left is bleached, while the Porites sp. on the right is not
Photo: Arjan Rajasuriya, Westmacott et al. 2000
2) Bleached branching corals (Acropora sp.) in the western Indian Ocean in 1998
Photo: ARVAM, Westmacott et al. 2000
3) The tip of this coral colony (Acropora sp.) is bleached but alive, while the lower portion has died and is now overgrown with algae
Photo: ARVAM, Westmacott et al. 2000
While the high ocean surface temperatures during the 1997-98 El Nino bleached coral reefs in more than 50 tropical countries worldwide, patches of coral did survive in or near the damaged reefs. A new study of these patches identifies factors likely to protect these threatened marine ecosystems during climate change.
"As baseline sea surface temperatures continue to rise, climate change may represent the single greatest threat to coral reefs worldwide," say Jordan West of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, and Rodney Salm of The Nature Conservancy in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the August issue of Conservation Biology.
Coral reefs have among the greatest biodiversity of any ecosystem worldwide and provide key services to people, from food to coastal protection to tourism. Reef-building corals depend on symbiotic algae to photosynthesize much of their food, and surface waters that are warmer than normal can "bleach" corals by depleting their photosynthetic pigments or even make them expel their algae.
Jordan West | EurekAlert!
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