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WWF Release on Coral Bleaching in SE Asia's Coral Triangle

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WWF Coral Triangle Programme Media Release

For Immediate Release: 29 July 2010


Mass coral bleaching closes dive sites, threatens future of world’s most diverse marine region – WWF


Mass coral bleaching caused by global warming is threatening the health of the Coral Triangle, a vast marine region that is home to 76% of all known corals in the world.


The Malaysian government recently closed portions of world-renowned dive sties on the tropical islands of Tioman and Redang, saying they would be off limits until October to give the fragile coral reef ecosystems time to heal.


Meanwhile, in the Philippines, bleaching has been reported in Anilao and Nasugbu, as well as off the cost of the western municipality of Taytay, Palawan. The latter saw corals, which usually exhibit a green and brown hue, temporarily turn unusual shades of pink, orange and yellow—a precursor to complete bleaching.


Numerous other Philippine reefs are likely to have been affected as well, exacerbated by localized outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorns Seastars.


Widespread bleaching has also been recorded in Indonesia, with areas near Sabang, Aceh, Padang, Thousand Island Jakarta, Bali, and many other locations.


“This widespread bleaching is alarming because it directly affects the health of our oceans and their ability to nurture fish stocks and other marine resources on which millions of people depend for food and income” says Richard Leck, Climate Change Strategy Leader of the WWF Coral Triangle Programme.



Coral Bleaching in Philippines - WWF Philippines


Coral bleaching is a phenomenon caused by global warming. Increased seawater temperatures, which in some regions have grown as much as 2°C above the long-term average maximum, can push the algae living inside corals beyond the brink, causing reefs to eventually turn white and die.


Aside from increased sea temperatures, other causes of stress include disease, pollution, sedimentation, cyanide fishing, changes in salinity, and storms.


The Coral Triangle region covers the seas of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. This nursery of the seas contains over 600 species of reef-building coral.


Since March this year, about 50 different organizations and individuals have reported signs of coral bleaching in the Coral Triangle region. Up to 100% bleaching on susceptible coral species have been reported, and in some areas, severe bleaching has also affected the more resistant species.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch stated that the current incident is the worst of it kind since 1997-1998, which decimated 16% of the world’s coral reefs.

With many areas showing signs of mass bleaching, it has become apparent that more weight needs to be put behind long-term conservation strategies, such as marine protected area management, preventing coastal and marine pollution, as well as promoting sustainable fisheries.


“Well-designed and appropriately-managed networks of marine protected areas and locally managed marine areas are essential to enhance resilience against climate change, and prevent further loss of biodiversity, including fisheries collapse” Leck also added.


Through new sustainable finance mechanisms and investments in climate adaptation, WWF plans to support networks of marine sanctuaries and locally managed conservation areas across the Coral Triangle.


Better fisheries management is also key to alleviating the impacts of coral bleaching, ensuring that only viable sites are given access to fishing and that the more sensitive ones are given time to recuperate via strong regulations, enforcement and awareness.


In Malaysia, for instance, WWF is promoting the conservation of herbivorous reef fish, which plays a critical role of keeping algae populations lower, allowing room for coral recruits to settle on the potentially newly-dead coral skeletons.


Only a year ago, WWF launched The Coral Triangle and Climate Change: Ecosystems, People and Societies at Risk, a report based on a thorough consideration of the climate biology, economics and social characteristics of the region, showing how unchecked climate change will ultimately undermine and destroy ecosystems and livelihoods in the Coral Triangle.




Editors note:

• The Coral Triangle—the nursery of the seas—is the most diverse marine region on the planet, matched in its importance to life on Earth only by the Amazon rainforest and the Congo basin. Defined by marine areas containing more than 500 species of reef-building coral, it covers around 6 million square kilometres of ocean across six countries in the Indo-Pacific – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste.

• It is home to 3,000 species of reef fish and commercially-valuable species such as tuna, whales, dolphins, rays, sharks, and 6 of the 7 known species of marine turtles.

• The Coral Triangle also directly sustains the lives of more than 120 million people and contains key spawning and nursery grounds for tuna, while healthy reef and coastal systems underpin a growing tourism sector. WWF is working with other NGOs, multilateral agencies and governments around the world to support conservation efforts in the Coral Triangle for the benefit of all.

• For information on Coral Triangle go to: www.panda.org/coraltriangle

• To download the Coral Triangle and Climate Change report go to: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/the_cora..._document_1.pdf


For further information:

Paolo Mangahas, WWF Coral Triangle Programme Communications Manager, Email: pmangahas@wwf.org.my, Tel: +60 3 7803 3772, Mobile: +60136730413

Richard Leck, WWF Coral Triangle Programme Climate Change Strategy Leader, Email: rleck@wwf.org.au, Mobile +61439814847



Santelmo Bleaching in Philippines - Lory Tan/WWF Philippines

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thanks for posting Robert. man that is a sad state of affairs. I hope it doesn't keep going. We haven't been affected here thankfully. But i just hate seeing photos like that. I was there in Palau after the bleaching in 98.. is a horrible thing.

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Thanks, Mike. I saw a lot of bad bleaching here in Indonesia and in the Philippines in 1998. In and around Bali, the beautiful acropora corals at Menjangan Island in the shallows were completely taken out. People who dive there now mostly don't realize that the corals they see in the shallows are all just 10-11 years old, and are growing on the dead remains of the large coral structures that once surrounded most of that island. The Gilis were hit very hard too. Komodo, on the other hand, wasn't really affected much by bleaching, presumably because of the cold water upwellings from the south kept ocean temperatures in the park within a reasonable range. And the powerful currents flowing through the Lembeh Strait and around the northeast tip of Sulawesi apparently protected those reefs from serious damage in 1998 too. (If memory serves, the Maldives and other locations in the Indian Ocean were the places that were hit hardest that year.)


I'm no meteorologist, but my understanding is that we just had the beginnings of a shift from El Nino (warming) to La Nina (cooling) conditions in the Pacific in May/June, and that La Nina conditions are expected to continue to develop over July-August and may extend out until 2011. If so, then the worst of this ENSO event may be over and reefs may not be affected as seriously as they were in 1998. But it's not time to relax.


Although the El Nino/La Nino cycle is a natural phenomenon; ocean temperature fluctuations associated with ENSO events are now combined with global warming effects, which may mean mass die-offs like 1998 will now happen more frequently.


The oceans are the biggest and most important carbon sink on the entire planet, sequestering about 2 gigatonnes of carbon every year. About a third of that total is taken up as calcium carbonate and locked into coral reefs that currently cover about 1.55 million sq. km (600,000 sq. mi) of the earth's surface. (Oceanic carbon sequestration is also carried out by foraminifers, marine shells and other organisms.) So die-offs on the scale of 1998 could dramatically affect the ocean's ability to continue to absorb carbon dioxide emissions generated by fossil fuels, deforestation, and other factors.



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Sadly i'm seeing quite a bit of bleaching in both the north and south of the Komodo National Park, interestingly in Alor there wasn't as much even though the water was about the same temp. The South of Komodo had bleached corals even though it was only 22degrees! I'm guessing the corals down there have different tolerance limits.


Most Anemones we've seen have been white or turning white too. i'll try and get a decent library of bleached shots for reference on this next trip.

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Bloody hell this is not good news. Is there an actuall link between coral bleaching and the effects of what man has done to this planet, or is the bleaching just down to El Nino and La nina. Why is it that some corals survive the rise in temperatures in some parts of the world and some do not. In Egypt the water temperaures fall dramatically in the winter months and rise in the summer months but this does not appear to have caused any bleaching in the Red Sea. I remeber only too well what happened in the Maldives.


Hope you are both having fun out there Si.



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I just returned from a liveaboard trip from Tobelo in Halmahera Indonesia around the northern parts of Halmahera.


Corals there and along the way were pristine, and in really excellent condition. We did not see any bleaching of the corals in that area. Water temps ranged from 81-84 degrees F. I have no idea if that is normal there. We did see rare isolated corals affected by crown of thorns, but not from bleaching.


Truly hope that the La Nina is truly beginning.

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The bleaching of anemones seems to have been going on for some time. I took this photo a year ago (July 2009) at P. Banta, just outside the park boundaries, but there were lots of bleached Entacmaea quadricolor anemones in the same condition inside the park as well. This seemed to be the only anemone species affected. Bleaching of Acropora corals in the same area that I noticed at that time (July) appeared to be mainly the result of Crown-of-Thorns damage.






Corals in the Red Sea and other locations appear to be more tolerant of high ocean temperatures because of differences in their zooxanthellae (photosynthesizing symbiotic algae). Steve Palumbi (Stanford University and Hopkins Marine Station) is studying Pacific reefs that exhibited high thermal resilience, and have found healthy corals on reefs in lagoon areas where ocean temperatures are as hot now as the oceans are likely to get in 100 years.


Scientists find heat tolerant coral reefs that may resist climate change


The key is not the corals themselves but the heat tolerance of the (Symbiodinium sp algal symbionts. Scientists have now identified at least two different clades, one with the ability to tolerate much higher sea water temperatures. In some locations, the symbionts of corals exhibiting higher resistance to thermal stress turn out to be "clade D" symbionts, while the tissues of corals which have not been regularly exposed to thermal stress tend to have more symbionts of clade type C.


Ray Berkelmans and Madeleine van Oppen (Australian Institute of Marine Science) have showed that for adult Acropora millepora can acquire increased thermal tolerance if the dominant zooxanthellae symbiont changes from Symbiodinium of clade type "C" to type "D".


Role of zooxanthellae in coral thermal resilience - a nugget of hope


There's a lot more research and information out there.


Of course, this doesn't mean that algal symbionts of Indo-Pacific corals will change or evolve naturally to more heat tolerant types quickly enough to avert major die-offs if there is another ENSO event like 1998. Nor do we know whether it would be possible or safe to introduce "Type D" or other heat tolerant algal symbionts to vulnerable corals in order to increase their resilience in the face of thermal stress. But scientists are looking at these questions, and this research certainly offers a breath of hope, particularly the indication that it may be possible for mature corals to acquire new, more heat-resistant algal symbionts.


I'll be back in Komodo in about a week and will try to hit some of the same places.


"Frogfish" (Robert Delfs)

Edited by frogfish

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By the beginning of this month, we have noticed a large scale bleaching of corals in the Arabian Gulf where corals have very high tolerance to temperature variations. Old timers say it's worse than what happened in 97-98. So, is this a global issue now?


Temperature now is 36 C at 10m depth.

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