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Coral sanctuary is now a 'graveyard' due to record warm oceans, finds the NOAA - 3rd June

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Jervis Island, in the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument, has experienced devastating loss of corals due to record warm ocean temperatures in the year preceding May 2016, a report from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has found.

The NOAA notes that the area has the highest fish biomass, however a Bernardo Vargas-Angel, a scientist with the NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Islands Science Centre Coral Reef Ecosystem Programe said that reefs “looked more like a coral graveyard”

Vargas-Angel estimates that around 95% of coral colonies have died from coral bleaching as a result of high and prolonged water temperatures associated with an intense El Niño episode. Combined with human-caused global warming, widespread coral reef mortality has been reported this week.

Bleached corals can recover if ocean waters cool fast enough or pollutants diminish, however they can die if the stress lasts too long. In the case of Jervis Island, ocean temperatures remained in the lethal range for 8 months, and were susceptible to bleaching for more than a year, the NOAA found. During the peak of the event, water temperatures exceeded the average by 4 degrees Celcius.

Whilst this bleaching event is decimating reefs worldwide, it offers scientists the opportunity to study why certain species of coral are more resilient than others, and ultimately can determine which corals may need better protection from other man-made threats such as pollution and overfishing.

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