[Coral-List] 2014-15 Bleaching Event Continues, is expected to intensify

Mark Eakin mark.eakin at noaa.gov
Wed Apr 1 11:08:33 EDT 2015

During the past few months, bleaching has been a problem for South Pacific corals. With the change of seasons we continue to see signs of this developing into a full-fledged global event with warming in the eastern Indian Ocean and starting in the extreme southwestern Caribbean. For those who have not heard, an El Niño has now been declared and this weak event, on top of already warm waters throughout much of the eastern North Pacific will dominate the climate system for much of 2015. At this point I expect 2015 bleaching to not be as severe as 2010 globally. However, it could be worse in some locations, just as we saw record thermal stress in the northernmost Mariana Islands and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2014.

Except where noted, the following report comes from the newly released Coral Reef Watch 5-km thermals stress products and the recently updated 4-Month Bleaching Outlook.

Pacific Ocean:
The last few months have seen high thermal stress and bleaching in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Fiji, and the Samoas. Coral nurseries in Fiji have had to shut down their live coral exports due to severe bleaching of the corals they grow out from fragments. Bleaching in lagoons of American Samoa have been the worst seen in 12 years, although the problem has been much greater in western islands (Samoa and Tutuila, American Samoa). Bleaching and high water temperatures around Apia have being seen to 40m. Ofu, American Samoa has had significant bleaching in the lagoons but not much on the outer reefs there or elsewhere in the Manua Islands. Surprisingly, there has been limited bleaching in New Caledonia despite conditions reaching Alert Level 1-2. Scientists in the area report that temperatures have indeed been quite warm but perhaps the corals there are more resistant to bleaching.

Conditions in the South Pacific are starting to cool as warming is beginning along the equatorial Pacific. All reefs from the Federated States of Micronesia east to Ecuador and Central America are under at least a bleaching watch. The Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) in the west and the Galapagos Islands in the east have reached Alert Level 1. CRW's 4-Month Bleaching Outlook currently calls for Alert Level 1-2 conditions to form across the equatorial Pacific in the coming months, following a classic El Niño pattern.

Note on eastern Pacific: The Coral Reef Watch 50-km products were notorious for overestimating thermal stress in the eastern tropical Pacific, including the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica, Panama, and out to the Galapagos Islands. This was largely due to errors in the old climatology used with these products. The new climatology used for the 5-km products is much warmer in this region than the 50-km climatology has hopefully has alleviated that problem. It will be valuable to learn how well the new 5-km products do in this region.

Indian Ocean:
Almost all Indian Ocean reefs south of the Equator currently are under Bleaching Watch or Bleaching Warning. Bleaching Watch also surrounds the Maldives and most of the Lakshadweep Islands, extends up the coasts of India and along western and northern Sri Lanka, much of the east coast of Oman and the entire western coast of Sumatra, Thailand and Myanmar.

In the coming months, the warming is expected to intensify in the eastern Indian Ocean. CRW's 4-Month Bleaching Outlook currently calls for Alert Level 2 from the Chagos Archipelago east to Sumatra, with Alert Level 1 for most of the eastern half of the Indian Ocean, including the Andaman Islands and western Myanmar and Thailand.

Southeast Asia/Coral Triangle:
Indian Ocean warming has spread through much of the inter-island seas of Indonesia, with a Bleaching Watch in place throughout the Java, Banda, and Celebes Seas, reaching the southwestern Philippines. Bleaching Warning conditions surround the southern Indonesian islands from eastern Java to East Nusa Tenggara.

While not forecast to be as severe as 2010, CRW’s 4-Month Bleaching Outlook calls for more warming throughout much of this region, including Alert Level 1 from Vietnam to Java and parts of the southern Philippines.

The bellwether region is already starting to warm. Any year where we have had major Caribbean bleaching, the warming has started in the area from the Colombia-Panama border up to Santa Marta, Colombia. The Caribbean Colombia and western Atlantic Panama Regional Virtual Stations went on bleaching watch late last week. CRW's 4-Month Bleaching Outlook  calls for that warming to continue.

Bleaching Watch conditions dominate the tropical South Atlantic, including the entire coast of Brazil to the west, with Bleaching Warming around Sao Tome and Principe in the east. CRW’s 4-Month Bleaching Outlook calls for this area to begin cooling soon.

It’s far too early to predict where major bleaching may occur in the Caribbean. We don’t know enough to predict the patterns of teleconnection well enough to say. We do know these teleconnections exist and that Pacific warming &/or El Niño can result in high temperatures and often bleaching in the Caribbean.  However, we don’t understand these well enough to predict where might bleach in a normal year, much less this year. Keep watching our 4-Month Bleaching Outlook to see.

Our thanks to the many observers who have reported bleaching to us over the last few months. As always, please send all bleaching observations to coralreefwatch at noaa.gov <mailto:coralreefwatch at noaa.gov> and/or the NOAA/ReefBase collaborative online bleaching report form: http://www.reefbase.org/contribute/bleachingreport.aspx <http://www.reefbase.org/contribute/bleachingreport.aspx>. Your bleaching observations (including observations of no bleaching) are greatly appreciated. Should you have any questions or feedback on our Coral Reef Watch products, please send an e-mail to coralreefwatch at noaa.gov <mailto:coralreefwatch at noaa.gov>.

We encourage you to watch our new 5-km satellite bleaching products and 4-Month Bleaching Outlook at: http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/index.php <http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/index.php>.


C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D.
Coordinator, NOAA Coral Reef Watch
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Center for Satellite Applications and Research
Satellite Oceanography & Climate Division
e-mail: mark.eakin at noaa.gov
url: coralreefwatch.noaa.gov

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