It looks like 2015 is shaping up to be a bad year for coral reefs.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned this week that warm waters in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans spark widespread coral bleaching across the world this year – making it the third time in less than a decade that this has occurred.
Reefs are one of the world’s most important ecosystems, supporting more species than any other marine environment including 4,000 fish species. They are also a crucial to sustaining many coastal communities that thrive on the $375 billion a year reaped through diving, fishing and tourism.
Bleaching is akin to coral cancer. It occurs when corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light or nutrients. They respond by expelling the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn white. Without the algae, the coral loses its major source of food and often can’t survive.