Coral bleaching most ‘drastic in recorded history’, says local scientists

The Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS) and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) are warning that coral reefs in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP) are suffering the “most drastic coral bleaching events in recorded history”.

PIMS and the BNT explained in a press statement released yesterday that the threat of climate change has lead to the bleaching of 100 percent of the corals in certain areas within the ECLSP, while some of the most resilient corals hare showing a bleaching rate of up to 50 percent.

The statement explained that the reefs of The Bahamas contribute roughly $135 million per square kilometer to the economy.

“The ecological and economic implications are profound,” the statement said.

It added: “Often touted as a beacon of nature’s resilience, the ECLSP, founded in 1958 and declared a ‘no-take zone’ in 1986, ranks among the world’s most revered marine parks. Yet, the very havens that once inspired optimism now teem 

with signs of environmental distress.”

Senior Science Officer at BNT Lindy Knowles called the scene at one coral habitat 50 to 60 feet beneath the surface “chilling”.

“The sight at Shroud Wall was depressing,” said Knowles.

“The bleached corals were glaringly white, so different than their usual vibrant colors. We immediately could’ve seen the massive amount of bleaching on the reef as soon as we got to the site, before even getting in the water.”

The statement said that area has suffered bleaching to about 70 to 80 percent of its corals.

A scientist with PIMS specializing in GIS Will Greene said an area called Jeep Reef was once “a tapestry of corals and sponge” and has now had half of its corals bleached and another quarter in distress.

“It’s an ecological nightmare,” said Greene.

PIMS Executive Director Dr. Craig Dahlgren, who spearheaded the recent expedition, added: “Coral bleaching is one of nature’s most important distress signals. It’s perhaps the most visceral alarm bell for our planet’s health.”

The statement said scientists were happy to see that there were some coral species that showed, and that at the reef there was the absence of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

It explained that relief for the coral could come from a drop in ocean temperatures, “possibly due to a cold front”, providing temporary relief.

“Tackling climate change isn’t a matter of choice but of survival,” stated Greene.

“We can’t stop the current bleaching event at a meaningful scale, but we can prevent environmental disasters like this from happening down the line by addressing climate change.

“In the interim, our focus is on helping the park recover by rebuilding resilient reefs engineered to withstand thermal surges.”

The statement explained that in 1998 a bleaching event devastated half of the coral in Andros’ waters, and warned that scientific models estimate “that global warming could annihilate most coral reefs by 2050”.

“However, these bleak projections seem to be manifesting far earlier than expected,” warned Dr. Dahlgren.

“To give corals a fighting chance, a paradigm shift in our approach — from gene banking and coral restoration to advancements in coral genetics — is paramount.”

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Chester Robards

Chester Robards rejoined The Nassau Guardian in November 2017 as a senior business reporter. He has covered myriad topics and events for The Nassau Guardian. Education: Florida International University, BS in Journalism

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