Coral Reef Tipping Point: ‘Near-Annual’ Bleaching May Occur Globally, Scientists Say
Tropical coral reefs are at a critical tipping point, and we've pushed them there, scientists say. Climate change may now cause previously rare, devastating coral bleaching events to occur in tropical coral reefs around the globe on a 'near-annual' basis, reported The Guardian.
In February 2020, record-high sea temperatures at Australia's Great Barrier Reef caused the most widespread coral bleaching event at the reef ever, reported NBC News. Unfortunately, this was also the third such major bleaching in five years, raising concerns over the fragile corals' ability to keep rebounding against worsening marine conditions.
To put it into perspective, there have only ever been five recorded bleaching events at the Great Barrier Reef, explained Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in North Queensland, to NBC News. The first two were in 1998 and 2002, and then there was a 14-year gap before the 2016 and 2017 events. The latter two resulted in the death of almost half of the famed reef's corals in just two years, NBC News reported.
Scientists weren't expecting another bleaching event so soon, explained Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program in College Park, Maryland to NBC News. "This has never happened before. We're in completely uncharted territory."
Now, Eakin warns that the accelerating frequency may indicate something far worse. "The real concern is with this much bleaching without tropical forcing," Eakin told The Guardian. "This may be a sign we've now tipped over to near-annual bleaching in many locations."
Historically, tropical coral reefs bleach more often when the Pacific Ocean is in a phase known as El Niño, reported The Guardian. This latest bleaching on the reef has hit during a neutral phase in the cycle.
Eakin told The Guardian, "It's quite concerning that we are getting this much heat stress across the Great Barrier Reef in an Enso [El Niño southern oscillation]-neutral year."
Eakin's agency, Coral Reef Watch, monitors coral reefs across the globe, not just in Australia. Their research led Eakin to additionally conclude that there was a risk that this mass bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef could mark the start of another global-scale event, reported The Guardian.
"If we get another El Niño, the odds are almost 100% that we will see another global bleaching event," Eakin told The Guardian.
"The gap between one event and the next is shrinking, not just for the Great Barrier Reef, but reefs throughout the tropics," Hughes told NBC News. "That's important, because it takes a decade or so for a half-decent recovery of even the fastest-growing corals. The slowest ones take several decades."
Given their long recovery time, Eakin warned The Guardian, "We are seeing these events far too frequently" for reefs to recover from mass mortality of corals due to bleaching.
The news report explained that corals bleach when they sit in abnormally hot water for too long. While corals can recover from mild bleaching, severe and prolonged heat stress can kill corals.
Eakin added, "What we are seeing on the Great Barrier Reef and potentially elsewhere is really being driven just by anthropogenic climate change," reported The Guardian.
Increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause the planet to warm, and 90 percent of that extra heat is taken up by oceans, explains the news report. According to CBS News, because corals are extremely sensitive to ocean temperatures, raising the water temperature by even a couple of degrees can still result in mass coral bleaching. And while bleaching does not kill the coral, it weakens them, making them vulnerable to disease, The Guardian explained.
Eakin concluded, "There's so much heat that has been absorbed in the upper ocean that all the coral reefs are much closer now to their bleaching threshold. As result, it's very easy to tip them over," reported The Guardian.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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