In DepthEcology

El Niño's warmth devastating reefs worldwide

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Science  01 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 15-16
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6281.15

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Even as recently as early March, Australian coral reef scientists still hoped that the legendary Great Barrier Reef (GBR) would get off lightly in the current El Niño, the climate phenomenon that brings unusually warm water to the equatorial Pacific, stressing and often killing corals. No such luck. On 20 March, the GBR Marine Park Authority in Townsville, Australia, reported that divers were finding extensive coral bleaching—the loss of symbiotic algae—in remote northern areas of the reef. Many sections were already dead. Subsequent flyover surveys have confirmed an unfolding disaster, with only four of 520 reefs appearing unscathed. The GBR joins a lengthening list of reefs bleached because of the El Niño that started in late 2014. It is now the longest bleaching event ever, and many more corals worldwide will likely die.