By sapi08. Global Warming. Published at Wednesday, November 28th, 2018 - 22:32:14 PM.
Before we call rockfish, shrimp and crab “dinner,” some of these species call coral reefs “home.” But those reefs, home to a quarter of all marine fish species, are now increasingly threatened as rising ocean temperatures accelerate a phenomenon known as coral bleaching.
Large-scale coral bleaching events, in which reefs become extremely fragile, were virtually unheard-of before the 1980s. But in the years since, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science, the frequency of coral bleaching has increased to the point that reefs no longer have sufficient recovery time between severe episodes.
Jelle Atema, a professor of biology at the Boston University Marine Program who was not involved in the study, said the effects of more frequent bleaching events were very difficult to predict because of the complex networks of dependencies within reefs. But he said they could be devastating.
“When coral dies, it affects the shelter and food that sustain fish, lobsters, shellfish, worms, etc. The same happens in a rain forest. When the trees die, the animals and plants that have developed over millennia die with them,” he said, before adding an analogy. “When a country is ravaged by war, people die and migrate.”
During bleaching events, overheated seawater causes corals to part ways with symbiotic plantlike organisms called zooxanthella that live inside of them. In addition to giving coral reefs their bright colors, zooxanthella also provide corals with oxygen, waste filtration, and up to 90 percent of their energy. Absent zooxanthella, corals not only take on a ghostly pallor, hence the term bleaching, but they are also more susceptible to death.
In theory, coral reefs can recover from even a severe bleaching event. Some of the coral will die off from increased disease susceptibility, but once ocean temperatures drop again, many of the corals will start growing back.
But that’s only if they’re given enough time.
Typically, it takes 10 to 15 years for the fastest-growing corals to recover after a severe bleaching event. Larger corals that provide shelter for bigger fish can take even longer to grow back.
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