(MENAFN) In the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 100 miles off the Texas coast, lies a hidden treasure — the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Divers exploring the azure waters discover an enchanting landscape of undersea mountains adorned with vibrant yellow, orange, and pink coral, creating one of the world's healthiest coral reef ecosystems. The sanctuary's remote location, shielded in deep, cool waters far from the shore, has allowed these reefs to thrive. However, scientists caution that, like all coral reefs, their resilience is not limitless, especially in the context of a warming climate.
Michelle Johnston, the acting superintendent and research coordinator for the federally protected area, marvels at the magnificence of the coral coverage, describing it as a rare experience in the current era. While the sanctuary did experience some moderate bleaching this year, it escaped the catastrophic damage witnessed by other reefs during the record-breaking heat of the summer. Nevertheless, Johnston underscores that coral bleaching remains a top concern for the sanctuary's future. Elevated water temperatures lead corals to expel their colorful algae, turning them white. Although they can survive if temperatures decrease, they become more susceptible to diseases and face an increased risk of eventual death.
Florida, home to the world's third-largest coral reef, faced an unprecedented and potentially lethal level of bleaching during the summer. Derek Manzello, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch, highlights that this year, at least 35 countries and territories across five oceans and seas have witnessed mass coral bleaching. He notes that it is too early to determine the extent of recovery for Florida's reefs, as coral may succumb to bleaching-related damage up to a year or two later.
Alarmingly, climate models project that by around 2040, severe coral bleaching events will afflict all the world's coral annually, leaving little opportunity for recovery. Manzello emphasizes the grim prognosis if such bleaching becomes a yearly occurrence, as corals may struggle to regain their health. In contrast, officials from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary assert that, even in years with more severe bleaching, the sanctuary has demonstrated a remarkable ability to recover swiftly due to its overall health and depth.
As scientists and marine conservationists grapple with the escalating threats posed by climate change, a forthcoming report will examine the Flower Garden Banks' vulnerability to the projected effects of climate change. The delicate balance of these stunning coral reefs hangs in the balance, underscoring the urgent need for global efforts to address climate change and protect these vital marine ecosystems.
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