Coral Bleaching in Galapagos

Coral Health and Monitoring Program coral at
Wed Jan 21 12:18:40 EST 1998

FYI, a NOAA Press Release:

CONTACT:        Joyce Gross  202/482-8360 email: Joyce.W.Gross at


        El Niño's extremely warm waters in the Pacific Ocean have caused
coral bleaching in the waters around the Galapagos Islands, the Commerce
Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced

        Warm waters that are two to three degrees Celsius above the
maximum temperatures that are typically expected to develop during the
entire year, are continuing to develop down the coast of South America.
These Galapagos "hot spots," with temperatures well above last year's
levels, have been identified by NOAA satellite data.

        "The Galapagos, on the Equator off the coast of Ecuador, lie in
some of the warmest waters of this El NiZo," said NOAA oceanographer Al
Strong."Sea surface temperatures in the area are currently about 29
degrees Celsius, nearly a whole degree and a half warmer than what is
critical for bleaching at that site."  Strong reports that the satellite
data for the area have been confirmed by data from NOAA's data buoys.

        Corals at the Galapagos thrive as long as temperatures remain at
or below 27 degrees Celsius -- the normal maximum sea surface temperature
at this site.  An increase of one or two degrees above the usual maximum
temperatures can be deadly to these animals.  The temperature range for
corals to thrive varies from site to site by only a few degrees.

        Coral reefs -- the "rainforests of the oceans" -- support a
variety of sea life and provide resources of significant economic
importance such as fishing and recreation.  Coral bleaching, induced by
high water temperatures, has raised concerns about these fragile
ecosystems.  Coral bleaching occurs as coral tissue expels zooxanthellae,
a type of algae that resides in the structure of the coral, and is
essential to the coral's survival.  Corals normally recover, unless high
ocean temperatures persist for too long a period or become too warm.

        During the 1997-98 El NiZo, NOAA has also confirmed coral
bleaching in the Western Hemisphere at sites in the Florida Keys, Baja
California, Pacific Coast of Panama, the Yucatan coast, Caymans, and the
Netherland Antilles.

        "With 1998 named the Year of the Ocean, it is appropriate that we
focus our attention on these extremely important ecosystems," Strong said.

	Video animations of coral reef Hot Spots and sea surface
temperatures are available on the World Wide Web at:

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