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A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999


Corals Succumb to Heat and Disease

Item #d99may46

Corals bleach (or lose their symbiotic algae) when stressed by high temperatures. This phenomenon was one of the topics at a session entitled “Diseases of the Ocean: A New Environmental Challenge” conducted at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim in January and reported in an EPA press release. One of the speakers, Kiho Kim of Cornell University, reported on an unusual disease in Florida Keys corals. There, up to 40% of sea fans are infected by a fungal disease, and many have already died, suggesting that lower water quality and higher ocean temperatures stress corals and increase their susceptibility to disease. He said the Florida findings support a growing consensus among scientists worldwide that, as ocean ecosystems become degraded, they will offer more favorable places for disease outbreaks and the emergence of new pathogens.

Elsewhere, Joby Warrick reported in the Mar. 5, 1999, edition of the Washington Post (p. A03) that a Department of State study had found that record sea temperatures in 1998 had triggered the largest die-off of tropical corals in modern times. In some areas, the die-off destroyed more than 70% of the coral in a region that covered 60 countries from the Caribbean to the eastern Pacific. These coral losses could have serious consequences for biodiversity, fisheries, and tourism. Coral reefs provide food and shelter for at least a million species of animals, plants, and microbes. Bleached corals can recover with time, but the Department of State document called last year’s loss “devastating.”

On Mar. 12, 1999, the Times of India carried a story that quoted National Institute of Oceanography scientists as saying that India’s coral reefs in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, the Gulf of Kutch, and the Gulf of Mannar were being threatened by surface sea temperature that had risen 2% from the normal summer average of 29/30oC, high levels of pollution, and eco-vandalism. Damage has extended to 80% of the corals in Lakshadweep and 60% of those in Andaman, Nicobar, and Mannar, and it might take 5 to 10 years for them to recover their color.

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