Just off the coast of Australia, one of the most isolated coral reefs in the planet has undergone bleaching. This happens when the symbiotic algae leave their corals. Since the color of the corals depends on the algae that inhabit it, the corals are left to its white skeleton when the algae leave.
Lord Howe Island marine park is a pristine crescent-shaped islet and is home to the world's southernmost barrier reef. Recently, researchers have found out that almost 92% of the island's reefs have suffered bleaching because of heat stress and climate change. Normally, the Great Barrier reef by the tropics is the one plagued with bleaching when the temperatures rise. This time, however, the heat has reached the southernmost part of the oceans.
Researchers were alarmed by the unlikely scenario. Tess Moriarty, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Newcastle, pointed out that some coral species were 100% bleached. Five of the six sites that the team surveyed were bleached, although not at uniformly and completely.
Data was gathered in March when bleaching usually happens in the oceans. The water this year has a One-Degree-Celsius temperature increase. March's inspection was just supposed to be a follow up of November's round of inspections for coral disease. Instead, the scientist finds that most of the lagoon reefs were damaged by bleaching. The only corals that remained healthy were those that were by the far edge of the reef.
Researchers from the University of New South Wales, James Cook University, and Australia's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will conduct a new survey that will assess the corals for the ability to photosynthesize.
Moriarty pointed out that corals are animals with a symbiotic relationship with algae. When the algae resource and food intake is eliminated, the coral risks mortality. The goal of the research team is to determine if there are enough algae left to photosynthesize, how severe the bleaching is, and if recovery is at all possible.
Previous coral bleaching incidents in Lord Howe Island marine park have proven the corals to be resilient as the corals were able to recover. Researchers are optimistic for another recovery for the coral reef. The team will be returning to the site in late April for to follow-up on the condition of the bleached out corals.
Moriarty has expressed her concern over the corals that are unique to the Lord Howe Island marine park, emphasizing that some corals cannot be seen in any other part of the world.
The high number of endemic and unique species inhabiting the pristine island is the reason why the site is sometimes called the western "Pacific Galapagos Islands."