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?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor