CORAL COMEBACK? Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb explores
underwater on the remote Pacific island of Kiritimati in
November, finding a bit of hope and life amid what in April was
a ghost town of dead coral. Cobb used bags and drills to examine
the coral and take core samples. (Alyssa Atwood, National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Georgia Tech via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #23 (December 5, 2016), page 7.
In graveyard of dead coral in Pacific, hope and
By Seth Borenstein
AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON — In a ghost town of dead coral off a remote Pacific
island, scientists have found a bit more life.
In excursions a year ago and then last April, scientists examined the
normally stunning coral reefs around the island of Kiritimati and
pronounced it mostly a boneyard of dead coral. About 85 percent of the
coral was dead, 10 percent was sick and bleached but still technically
alive, and only five percent was doing OK.
The same scientists returned in November and found six to seven
percent of the coral is alive and not bleached, said University of
Victoria coral reef scientist Julia Baum, speaking by Skype from the
"We left with a sense of dread and came back with a renewed purpose
because there are some corals that literally came back from the brink,"
said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb, who returned from the
expedition earlier. "It’s the best we could have hoped for."
Many of the fish that rely on the reef and had been absent seem to be
back, Cobb said.
Hot water — mostly from El Niño, the natural occasional warming of
the Pacific that changes weather worldwide, and manmade global warming —
had made the area one of the worst hit coral spots in the world. Later,
nearby Jarvis Island was even more damaged. And the death of 85 percent
of the coral of the better known and much larger Great Barrier Reef has
been reported, said C. Mark Eakin, coral reef watch coordinator for the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"But despite this mass mortality, there are a few small signs of
hope," Baum said. "It’s clear that coral reefs have great resilience and
the coral here is trying to recover."
Not only has some of the bleached coral recovered, she said, but
"there are coral babies that have settled on the reef sometime in the
last year to year-and-a-half and these are the reef’s best hope for
A study published recently in the journal Current Biology goes
back more than a million years and finds that even during mass die-offs,
coral species are able to rebound.
Eakin points to Scott reef off western Australia where 12 years after
the damaging 1998 El Niño coral die-off, nearly half the original reef
revived. But it was damaged again by the recent El Niño.
Even after the recovery seen at Kiritimati, Baum is wary: "It’s like
having a patient who is very sick and instead of letting them recover we
keep infecting them with more and more illnesses. There’s only so much
that any person — or any natural system — can take."
Read the current issue of The Asian Reporter in
Go to <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>!