Dec 14, 2015

El Nino’s extreme effects: Corals around this island aren’t just bleaching — they’re dying

Kiribati
Christmas Island
by
Chelsea Harvey
,
Washington Post
A large dead Acropora coral colony is surrounded by more stress-tolerant species on a Christmas Island reef. Thermal stress affects some coral species more than others. (Image credit: Kim Cobb)
A large dead Acropora coral colony is surrounded by more stress-tolerant species on a Christmas Island reef. Thermal stress affects some coral species more than others. (Image credit: Kim Cobb)

This year’s El Niño event is shaping up to be one of the strongest in recorded history, and its effects are making themselves apparent across the globe in the form of droughts, floods and changes in local weather patterns. A less talked-about consequence of warm ocean temperatures, however, is their effect on coral. Warm water can lead to widespread coral bleaching, and scientists are observing just this effect around one of the world’s most ecologically unique islands. Christmas Island, also known as Kiritimati, belongs to the collection of atolls forming the Pacific nation of Kiribati and is the largest atoll in the world...Christmas Island, among the world’s other reefs, will only be subject to increasing environmental stress in the future — this year’s El Niño event is a kind of window into what the future may be like for the planet’s marine ecosystems. Nonetheless, the circumstances provide a clear opportunity for the kind of work that might make that future easier.