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Coral reefs bleached. (Oceania).

Australia and Oceania -- Coral reefs around Australia and Pacific islands are suffering one of the worst episodes of bleaching on record. The Australian Institute of Marine Science, CRC Reef, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority surveyed more than 640 reefs along the west coast of Australia with light aircraft and found that nearly 60 percent of the reef area inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was affected. There have also been reports of bleached, dead coral across much of the South Pacific, including Tahiti, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia and Fiji.

Bleaching, a response to heat stress in the coral, causes the coral polyps to expel their symbiotic algae, which provide them with nutrients and give them their color. Some corals can recover by recapturing the algae, but others cannot. Of the most severely bleached reefs surveyed, 50 to 90 percent of the corals were dead.

The bleaching is an expected response to the record high sea temperatures recorded during early 2002. According to Thomas Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance in Chappaqua, New York and adviser to the United Nations Environment Programme, almost all the Great Barrier Reef's surface water was 2[degrees]C or more above normal for more than two months from early 3anuary to mid-March. This was hotter and longer than the bleaching episode that wiped out corals in the Maldives, Seychelles, and western Australia in 1998.

The higher surface sea temperatures are attributed to a new El Nino, although it is widely believed that global warming is the key underlying factor and the El Nino event the final coup de grace.

New Scientist, April 2; Environmental News Service, May 23
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Publication:Earth Island Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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