Bleaching Press Release
eakin at ogp.noaa.gov
Thu Nov 9 18:27:45 EST 1995
Subject: Time: 5:23 PM
OFFICE MEMO Bleaching Press Release Date: 11/9/95
The following has just been released by NOAA Public Affairs:
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
WASHINGTON D.C. 20230
CONTACT: Matt Stout
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 11/9/95
NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION
CORAL REEF BLEACHING FOUND IN BELIZE FOR THE FIRST TIME
Coral bleaching caused by environmental stresses is threatening the Western
Hemisphere's longest and most pristine barrier reef in Belize, as well as
other areas of the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, according to
scientists at the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric
The same warm waters that spawned or strengthened hurricanes in the western
Atlantic this year also are associated with this occurrence of coral
bleaching. From August through October, NOAA satellites detected elevated sea
surface temperatures spanning much of the Gulf of Mexico and the western
Caribbean basin from Belize to Jamaica, Honduras and Venezuela.
Coral reef bleaching occurs when stress, such as high ocean temperatures,
cold ocean temperatures, elevated ultraviolet light, sedimentation and toxic
chemicals, causes zooxanthellae, a symbiotic algae living within the corals'
tissues, to be expelled from coral, leaving it a ghostly white. Corals need
this symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae for nutrition, health, and
survival. Although most corals survive infrequent bleaching episodes,
repeated or sustained bleaching events kill corals.
Coral bleaching triggered by warm temperatures became a frequent problem in
the 1980's to early 1990's. In 1983, increased ocean temperatures related to
the El Nino resulted in widespread bleaching, mortality and even extinction
of corals in the eastern Pacific and bleaching at many sites in the western
Atlantic/Caribbean. Subsequent El Nino events have been connected with
bleaching in the Pacific and Atlantic, and may be related to the current
bleaching episodes. However, reefs in Belize and many neighboring nations in
the western Caribbean/ Gulf of Mexico region had been spared from this
NOAA's preliminary climate predictions indicate that after the current
(1995-1996) cold period ends, another El Nino, perhaps a strong one, may be
on the horizon for 1996-1991.
In addition to remote sensing and climate predictions, NOAA has been a
leader with other federal agencies and internationally in the development of
the International Coral Reef Initiative.
The Initiative's priorities include support for the establishment of a
global coral reef monitoring network, launched by the Intergovernmental
Oceanographic Commission, to be able to definitively tie coral reef events
such as bleaching to their environmental causes.
Reports of recent widespread bleaching of corals in the western Caribbean
were published in the Nov. 10 issue of Science Magazine.
Editor's Note: A color image of the NOAA sea surface temperature
map is available on the World Wide Web at http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/
C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D.
NOAA/Global Programs, 1100 Wayne Ave., Suite 1210
Silver Spring, MD USA 20910-5603
Voice: 301-427-2089 ext. 19 Fax: 301-427-2073
Internet: eakin at ogp.noaa.gov
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