Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
The Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA) predicts that 2010 will turn out to be one of the worst coral bleaching years ever, although the problems are only just starting at this time.
GCRA invented the HotSpot method used to correctly predict location, timing, extent, and severity of coral bleaching (Goreau, 1990; Goreau et al, 1993; Goreau & Hayes, 1994; Goreau and Hayes, 2005 a,b; Goreau et al. 2005). In 1998, the worst bleaching year in history, GCRA warned almost all locations where bleaching took place early enough, usually before they could see it in the field, to ensure the most detailed global field observations. Coral bleaching, with severe coral mortality in most places, occurred in almost all the world’s reefs, correlated with excessive temperatures at each site (Goreau et al., 2000).
Detailed analysis of the GCRA long-term global coral reef sea surface temperature database shows that temperature increases have strong regional patterns linked to worldwide changes in ocean circulation, and that changes tend to occur in jumps. We have long warned that complacency over the apparent lack of continuous increase in bleaching was merely a fool’s paradise, since relatively stable temperatures since 1998 were caused by the fact that heat is penetrating into the deep sea rather than building up at the surface, and that the next record hot year could kill most of the remaining coral. Although 2010 is less than half over, it now appears that massive bleaching death could happen this year.
Early this year GCRA warned Mauritius coral researchers that bleaching was about to hit. Bleaching there was the worst they have experienced. Subsequent high temperatures caused bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and Seychelles, but high temperatures moved through those areas rapidly, so mortality will be minor. Bleaching then broke out in many isolated small HotSpots across Indonesia, and is still underway, although temperatures are now moderating. Extremely hot temperatures then developed all across the northern Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. Severe bleaching is now underway in Maldives, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia, and is only just starting, so there are few field observations as yet. The temperatures are intensifying, so this is only the start of serious bleaching mortality unless there is an unprecedented sudden drop in temperatures at a time when they are normally rising. Viet Nam and the Philippines will be the next affected. At this time areas further north are still too cool for bleaching, but it is very likely that in the next few months the problem will spread to the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Pacific, and Caribbean. The Eastern Caribbean in particular is very warm, and likely to be badly affected, although it is still too soon to make predictions there.
There is nothing that can be done in the short term about high temperatures, given the flat refusal of the world’s governments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 to seriously tackle the root causes of global warming, or to adopt CO2 targets that could protect coral reefs and low lying coasts, of about 260 parts per million (Goreau, 2009).
There is only one thing that can be done now to save corals from dying from heat shock: large scale use of wave, wind, solar, and tidal current powered Biorock® Technology (Goreau and Hilbertz, 2009, a,b,c). Biorock increases coral growth rates 2-6 times (depending on species and conditions), and increased coral survival from severe heat shock by 16-50 times in the Maldives in 1998 (Note: that’s TIMES, not percent!). Biorock corals bleach too, because that is caused by excessively high temperature, but they don’t die, because the Biorock process provides them with the metabolic energy to resist severe stress.
Thanks to decades of denial and obfuscation by backward elements in the coral reef research community, policymakers, and funding agencies, and their irresponsible peddling of bogus politically-motivated myths of coral reef “resilience”, we are now facing a critical emergency in which much or most of the world’s remaining corals could die in the coming months.
Immediate large-scale application of GCRA’s Biorock technology is the only thing that can be done to save severely bleached corals from dying, and grow back vanishing reefs and beaches quickly in places where there has been little or no natural recovery. The persistent refusal of those in charge of policy and funding to acknowledge either the problem or the solution has pretty certainly made this impossible in the urgent time frame needed, and sealed the collapse of remaining coral reefs almost everywhere. GCRA remains ready to work with all groups seriously interested in saving their corals to immediately implement Biorock Arks to save corals from global warming extinction wherever funding can be found. This may be our last chance to preserve coral reefs and those who rely on them.