Global warming is blamed for first collapse of a Caribbean coral reef

A A A

Scientists have for the first time documented the killing of a coral reef in the Caribbean by global warming. They warn that it could herald a widerdestruction of the world's coral population.

The central barrier reef off Belize has suffered a mass die-off since scientists recorded the highest sea temperatures there in 1998, which resulted in widespread coral "bleaching". Richard Aronson, a marine biologist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, working with colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, describes in the journal Nature the first complete collapse of a coral reef in the Caribbean from bleaching.

The lettuce coral was the most abundant coral species living on the central Belizean lagoon in 1998, yet surveys in subsequent years showed that virtually all living colonies had been bleached white at almost every depth investigated.

Cores drilled into the coral showed a similar bleaching had not taken place in the past 3,000 years, indicating that the mass killing was unprecedented in recent history. Dr Aronson said: "1998 was the hottest year on record in the tropical oceans of the world. The high temperatures were created by a combination of El Niño conditions and continuing global warming. This caused coral bleaching worldwide.

"In Belize, coral populations in lagoonal habitats were killed by the bleaching, and this is the first time that anyone has observed a mass coral kill related to bleaching in the Caribbean."

Extensive coral bleaching has already been recorded elsewhere in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Marine biologists believe high temperatures cause a breakdown of the relationships between the coral animal - a sea anemone-like creature - and the microscopic algae that live in its chalky "skeleton". When sea temperatures reach 30C, the coral expels about 90 per cent of the algae, causing the colony to lose its colour. The reef can recover but is weakened and a second bleaching episode can kill it.

Dr Aronson said: "In the Belizean lagoon in 1998, the high water temperatures lasted for many months, causing the corals to bleach and then die. They were too stressed by the high temperatures to survive and regain their algae."

The case of the lost Belizean coral justifies the growing concern about global coral degradation caused by the Earth's ever-warmer climate, Dr Aronson said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing