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Only 1% of Japan’s Largest Reef Still Healthy After Historic Bleaching Catastrophe
In a sobering reminder of the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, a survey by the Japanese government found that barely more than one percent of the coral in the country's largest coral reef is healthy, AFP reported Friday.
The reef, located in the Sekisei Lagoon near Okinawa, has suffered mass coral bleaching events due to rising sea temperatures in 1998, 2001, 2007 and 2016.
"If coral reefs don't recover, it means a loss of rich fauna for a variety of creatures and would have grave impact on the ecosystem in the region," Japan Environment Ministry official Chihiro Kondo told AFP.
While coral reefs only account for one percent of the ocean, they are home for 25 percent of marine life, according to AFP.
The reef is also important for tourism and local fisherman.
"Damage on this scale will have long-term economic and social repercussions," University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa professor and coral expert James Reimer told the Huffington Post in an article about the 2016 bleaching event.
Ministry officials analyzed information and satellite images from 1,000 monitoring sites in the 67.89 square kilometer (approximately 26.21 square mile) lagoon and found that only 1.4 percent of its corals were healthy.
Surveys of nearby reefs in lagoons near the Ishigaki and Iriomote islets turned up similar results.
This was the first detailed satellite survey of the reef since 2008, at which point only 0.8 percent of it was healthy. In 1991, 14.6 percent was healthy.
"But the latest study shows that corals haven't recovered much since 2008, presumably partly because of the 2016 bleach," Kondo told AFP.
The 2016 bleaching event was the worst in the reef's recorded history, the Huffington Post reported. A December 2016 survey found that 70 percent of the reef's coral had died and 90 percent were partly bleached after ocean temperatures were one to two degrees Celsius higher than average that summer.
Scientists say it takes about 10 to 20 years for fast-growing corals to recover from a bleaching event and hundreds of years for older, larger specimens.
"In contrast, we have now had three severe bleaching events causing mass coral mortality in the Ryukyu Islands since 1998. With the oceans warming as rapidly as they are, I doubt there will be time for them to recover before the next bleaching event," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coral reef watch coordinator Mark Eakin told the Huffington Post.
Overall, the reef has lost 80 percent of its volume since the 1980s due to both rising temperatures and a coral-eating starfish, AFP reported.warned that all the world's reefs could die off by 2050 without immediate action due to bleaching, ocean acidification and other human activities like fishing, agriculture and coastal development.
- Coral Reefs Are Bleaching Too Frequently to Recover - The Atlantic ›
- Great Barrier Reef Sun Shield Film Tested to Prevent Bleaching ›
- The need to protect coral reefs | The Japan Times ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tara Lohan
When armed militants with a grudge against the federal government seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon back in the winter of 2016, I remember avoiding the news coverage. Part of me wanted to know what was happening, but each report I read — as the occupation stretched from days to weeks and the destruction grew — made me so angry it was hard to keep reading.
A searing heat wave has begun to spread across Europe, with Germany, France and Belgium experiencing extreme temperatures that are set to continue in the coming days.
In the 1980s, a Greenlandic subsistence hunter shot and killed a whale with bizarre features unlike any he had ever seen before. He knew something was unique about it, so he left its abnormally large skull on top of his toolshed where it rested until a visiting professor happened upon it a few years later.
A UN expert painted a bleak picture Tuesday of how the climate crisis could impact global inequality and human rights, leading to a "climate apartheid" in which the rich pay to flee the consequences while the rest are left behind.
Millions of solar panels clustered together to form an island could convert carbon dioxide in seawater into methanol, which can fuel airplanes and trucks, according to new research from Norway and Switzerland and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, PNAS, as NBC News reported. The floating islands could drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.
More than 40 percent of insects could go extinct globally in the next few decades. So why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week OK the 'emergency' use of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor on 13.9 million acres?
EcoWatch teamed up with Center for Biological Diversity via EcoWatch Live on Facebook to find out why. Environmental Health Director and Senior Attorney Lori Ann Burd explained how there is a loophole in the The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act under section 18, "that allows for entities and states to request emergency exemptions to spraying pesticides where they otherwise wouldn't be allowed to spray."