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Pacific News Minute

Pacific News Minute: Climate Change Could Extend Coral Bleaching Event into 2017

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Coral bleaching hit Hawaii's reefs in 2014, and then again last year when as much as 30% of our reefs were affected by a surge of warm water.  Now, ocean scientists attending a meeting in New Orleans are hearing that what's already the longest coral bleaching event in history could extend through this year, and well into 2017.  More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

One of the scientists in New Orleans is Mark Eakin, co-coordinator of the Coral Reef Watch program at The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We may be looking at a two to two and a half year long event," he told the meeting. "Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row." That would include Hawaii.

While North Pacific waters are relatively cool at this time of the year… below the equator, ugly red blotches cover enormous swathes on NOAA charts, which signify alert levels one and two for places like Kiribati and Fiji.  Last week, a surge of warm water devastated corals and killed huge numbers of fish in Fiji just ahead of Cyclone Winston, which caused so much destruction above the water line.  Like Hawaii, this is the second consecutive year that Fiji's reefs have been bleached. "The corals are being hit again and again," said NOAA's Mark Eakin, "The big problem with that is that coral reefs need time to recover."

Now, according to Tyrone Ridgeway of the Global Change Institute at Australia's University of Queensland, "it's crunch time for the Great Barrier Reef." Scientists hope for stormy weather to churn the water and keep temperatures down...The next three to four weeks will tell the story off Australia.... Hawaii's turn comes up again in late summer and fall.

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