As the climate changes and temperatures warm, corals are becoming more susceptible to bleaching. Now, researchers have looked at bleaching in detail and have discovered when and where bleaching will occur in the coming years.
“Our new local-scale projects will help resource managers better understand and plan for the effects of coral bleaching,” said Ruben van Hooidonk, the lead author of the new study, in a news release. “At some locations, referred to in our study as ‘relative refugia,’ lower rates of temperature increase and fewer extreme events mean reefs have more time to adapt to climate change. Managers may decide to use this information to protect these locations as refuges, or protected areas. Or they may take other actions to reduce stressed cause by human activities.”
Coral bleaching is primarily caused by warming ocean temperatures. This phenomenon is a major threat to coral reef health. When the water is too warm, corals expel the algae living in their tissues; this causes the corals to lose their vibrant colours and turn white. These bleached corals are under more stress and are more likely to die, which can leave reefs barren and lifeless.
In order to project future bleaching occurrences, the researchers used a regional ocean model and an approach called statistical downscaling. This allowed them to calculate the onset of annual severe bleaching at a much higher resolution. The resulting local-scale projects of bleaching conditions may help managers include climate change as a consideration when making conservation decisions.
There are certain regions, of course, that will be more impacted than others. Countries that are projected to experience bleaching conditions 15 or more years later than neighbouring regions include the reefs in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos and Mexico. These areas could potentially be conservation priorities.
The findings reveal a bit more about bleaching conditions, which could help managers make better decisions in the future.
The findings are published in the journal Global Change Biology.