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    Unusually Warm Caribbean Sea Threatens Coral Reefs

    By By Kristina Pydynowski, Senior Meteorologist
    August 21, 2010, 9:56:55 AM EDT

    A report issued on Thursday indicated that unusually warm waters are believed to be responsible for the deaths of corals offshore of Indonesia. Corals in the Caribbean Sea are now in danger of suffering the same fate.

    The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the dead corals were found off the coast of northwestern Indonesia, in the Andaman Sea.

    Marine biologists sent by the Wildlife Conservation Society, as well as others associated with Australia's James Cook University and Indonesia's Syiah Kuala University, have been monitoring this area since May when water temperatures in the Andaman Sea soared 7 degrees (Fahrenheit) above normal.

    Initial inspections by the marine biologists revealed that the corals had suffered massive bleaching, which occurs when the algae that grows inside the corals is released. Eighty percent of those corals have since died.

    Corals normally use the algae as food. However, unusually warm water will cause the algae to produce harmful chemicals. To avoid ingesting these toxins, corals will then release the algae.

    This process is called "bleaching" because the departure of the golden-brown algae will make the corals' white rock skeleton visible.

    Corals can survive minor bleaching, but will not be able to rebuild enough algae to live if the water temperature remains unusually high for a prolonged period of time.

    NOAA's Coral Reef Watch states that the corals' tolerance to warmer-than-normal water is extremely low.

    The corals will begin to experience thermal stress, the main cause of mass bleaching, if the water temperature is just 1 degree Celsius (roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the highest monthly mean temperature.

    Corals Being Endangered in the Caribbean Sea

    There is concern that corals in the Caribbean Sea could soon suffer the same fate as those off the coast of northwestern Indonesia.

    Two stations (one offshore of southwestern Puerto Rico, the other in the waters surrounded by the U.S. Virgin Islands) have already reached the threshold for when corals will begin to experience thermal stress.

    Furthermore, the below image indicates that water temperatures throughout the eastern and southern Caribbean are running over 1 degree (Celsius) above normal.


    The warm Caribbean has prompted the NOAA Coral Reef Watch to issue a bleaching warning for much of the sea's eastern and southern waters. That warning, which indicates bleaching is possible, also includes the waters surrounding Cuba and the Bahamas.

    A few isolated areas north of Panama and in the vicinity of the Leeward Islands are under a "Bleaching Alert Level 2," meaning that mortality is likely due to the bleaching.

    The unusually warm waters of the Caribbean are not only a danger to the coral reefs, but are one of the ingredients needed for this hurricane season to be as active as what AccuWeather.com Chief Hurricane Meteorologist Joe Bastardi is expecting.

    Related to the Story: 2010 AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center Global Warming Center Visit our Facebook Fan Page Follow us on Twitter Breaking Weather

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