[Coral-List] NASA, NOAA Monitor Bleached Reefs in U.S. Caribbean (PR, USVI) (press release)

Roger.B.Griffis Roger.B.Griffis at noaa.gov
Tue Dec 20 17:00:38 EST 2005

December 16, 2005
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Contact:  Ben Sherman, NOAA (301) 713-3066
Dwayne Brown, NASA (202) 358-1726 December 16, 2005
John Bluck, NASA Ames Research Center, (650) 604-5026


 Responding quickly to one of the most devastating coral bleaching
events on record in the Caribbean, a NASA-led team is in the region this
week assessing the situation as part of a U.S. inter-agency response
called for by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force at its meeting this

 "I'm very pleased to have NASA step up and bring its expertise and
assets to help the scientific community understand and address this
devastating event," says NOAA’s Timothy Keeney, deputy assistant
secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and Task Force co-chair.

 Warnings of the onset of this event were first reported by the NOAA
Coral Reef Watch Satellite Bleaching Alert monitoring system in late
August in the Florida Keys and spread throughout much of the eastern
Caribbean in September and October.

 Coral bleaching is associated with a variety of stresses including
increased sea surface temperatures. This causes the coral to expel
symbiotic micro-algae living in their tissues – algae that provide
corals with food.  Losing their algae leaves coral tissues devoid of
color, and thus appearing to be bleached. Prolonged coral bleaching
(over a week) can lead to coral death and the subsequent loss of coral
reef habitats for a range of marine life.

 "Coral reefs are considered 'canaries of the oceans' acting as an early
warning system for marine ecosystems," said Liane Guild, a scientist at
NASA Ames Research Center, located in California's Silicon Valley. She
is leading the NASA emergency deployment from Dec. 12 – 20 to rapidly
assess the damage before other changes take place in the damaged reefs.

 The NASA-led interagency team will be looking at reefs in Puerto Rico
including, study sites at La Parguera and Culebra Island.  U.S. Virgin
Island sites are Buck Island and the north coast of St. Croix as well as
the south coast of St. John.

  With both financial and staff support from NASA, National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Interior and
others, NASA is making flyovers above the affected reefs to gather
valuable data.

 The team's aircraft will over-fly the bleached reef areas with a
digital camera and the NASA Airborne Visible Infrared Imaging
Spectrometer (AVIRIS), an instrument that captures visible and infrared
light data.

 "The importance of this research is that we will be concentrating on
aspects that enhance both understanding and prediction of reef status in
terms of the extent of bleached corals, coral mortality, evidence of
recovery, evidence of algal overgrowth and biodiversity using AVIRIS
data and field measurements," Guild said.

 NASA, NOAA and other organizations also are supporting field monitoring
to complement the flyover. Guild's field team will be in the water when
the over flights occur, collecting data on the coral to that relate to
the AVIRIS data.

 "Coral reefs are critical for marine fisheries, providing habitat and
nursery grounds, according to experts. Coral reefs also provide
coastline protection from severe storms by dampening wave action," Guild
also observed.

 The NASA-NOAA effort is just one component of response.  Many other
efforts are underway to help document and track this bleaching event and
its long term impacts on Caribbean coral reef ecosystems and the
communities that depend on them. The NASA-NOAA over flights are one part
of a larger interagency Federal and international effort to document and
assess the extent and impacts of this massive bleaching event as called
for by the task force.  More information can be found at:

 Other partners in the current study include researchers from the
University of Puerto Rico, NOAA's Coral Conservation Program and the
National Park Service in the U.S Virgin Islands

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the
U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security
and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and
climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our
nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth
Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal
partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network
that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

On the Web:
NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov
NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program:  http://www.coralreef.noaa.gov/
NASA: http://www.nasa.gov
U.S. Coral Reef Task Force: http://www.coralreef.gov


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