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NOAA declares third-ever global coral bleaching event

NOAA declares third-ever global coral bleaching event

As record ocean temperatures cause widespread coral bleaching across Hawaii, NOAA scientists confirm the same stressful conditions are expanding to the Caribbean and may last into the new year, prompting the declaration of the third global coral bleaching event ever on record. This animation shows how warmer than normal sea surface temperatures are creating heat stress along with large areas of bleaching events, using satellite data from the NOAA Coral Reef Watch Program. Data includes sea surface temperature anomaly data from October 2015, year-to-date Degree Heating Week data for 2015, and maximum bleaching area alert data for 2015.

Waters are warming in the Caribbean, threatening coral in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, NOAA scientists said. Coral bleaching began in the Florida Keys and South Florida in August, but now scientists expect bleaching conditions there to diminish. This bleaching event, which began in the north Pacific in summer 2014 and expanded to the south Pacific and Indian oceans in 2015, is hitting U.S. coral reefs disproportionately hard. NOAA estimates that by the end of 2015, almost 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs will have been exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach.

The biggest risk right now is to the Hawaiian Islands, where bleaching is intensifying and is expected to continue for at least another month. Areas at risk in the Caribbean in coming weeks include Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and from the U.S. Virgin Islands south into the Leeward and Windward islands. The next concern is the further impact of the strong El Nio, which climate models indicate will cause bleaching in the Indian and southeastern Pacific Oceans after the new year. This may cause bleaching to spread globally again in 2016.

Continue to monitor real-time global bleaching conditions in NOAA View.

Courtesy of NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory