Satellite Data Spur NOAA to Declare Global Coral-Bleaching Event

by | Oct 20, 2015

NOAA's four-month bleaching outlook shows the threat continuing in the Caribbean, Hawaii and Kiribati, and potentially expanding into the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA's four-month bleaching outlook shows the threat continuing in the Caribbean, Hawaii and Kiribati, and potentially expanding into the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (Credit: NOAA)

As record ocean temperatures cause widespread coral bleaching across Hawaii, NOAA scientists confirm the same stressful conditions are expanding to the Caribbean and may last into 2016, prompting the declaration of the third global coral-bleaching event ever on record.

Satellite data from NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program provides current reef environmental conditions to quickly identify areas at risk for coral bleaching, while NOAA's climate-model-based outlooks provide information on potential bleaching months in advance. The outlooks were developed jointly by NOAA's Satellite and Information Service and the National Centers for Environmental Prediction through funding from the Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Climate Program Office.

The coral bleaching and disease, brought on by climate change and coupled with events like the current El Niño, are the largest and most-pervasive threats to coral reefs around the world, said Mark Eakin, NOAA's Coral Reef Watch coordinator. As a result, we are losing huge areas of coral across the U.S. as well as internationally. This event has been going on for more than a year, and our preliminary model projections indicate it's likely to last well into 2016.

Although corals can recover from mild bleaching, severe or long-term bleaching often is lethal. After corals die, reefs quickly degrade, providing less shoreline protection from storms and fewer habitats for fish and other marine life, including ecologically and economically important species.

For more information on coral bleaching, visit http://www.coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/index.php.

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