Climate change catching up with SEA? You bet.
Coral Bleaching Prompts Thailand to Close Diving SitesBy JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF
Andrew C. Baker/Wildlife Conservation SocietyBleached coral that shows some signs of recovering.
Some of Thailand’s most popular diving sites are now off-limits to tourists: Thai officials announced on Thursday that they were restricting access to seven marine national parks for up to a year to prevent further harm to coral reefs severely damaged by a long period of elevated sea temperatures last year.
Reefs are plentiful in Thailand and serve as a major tourist draw, and the announcement met with opposition from some hotel and tourism operators.
More than 80 percent of the corals at 18 dive sites have undergone bleaching, a symptom of severe stress caused by excessively warm water temperatures. Corals can recover from bleaching, but if the stress is too acute, they die.
Sea surface temperatures in some areas that were damaged were more than seven degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average last April and May.
Corals in other parts of Southeast Asia, Australia, South America and the Caribbean also suffered severe damage from warming in 2010, in what scientists are calling one of the worst global coral bleaching events ever recorded. Global temperature data sets show that 2010 was one of the two warmest years in the historical record.
Many of the world’s shallow-water corals are already stressed by overfishing, pollution and shipping, but some marine biologists fear that climate change and ocean acidification, caused when carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, pose a far more serious threat and could ultimately lead to the total collapse of many reefs.