From Healthy To Dead: How Coral Bleaching Is Devastating Our Oceans

Sometimes, when things aren’t quite right with the oceans, a once-pristine, colorful reef will start to die. Corals that take thousands of years to grow, polyp-by-tiny-polyp, get a little finicky when it comes to temperature or chemical changes in the water. And in the span of just a few months, an underwater rainbow can turn a bright, ghostly white.

What’s striking when you see the photos is how unnatural it all seems. The phenomenon goes by the dreaded name of bleaching.

It’s happening now around the planet. Spurred by what scientists expect to be a strong El Nino tropical weather system, reefs are suffering from just the third global mass bleaching event in recorded history. Many of these underwater forests, from Hawaii to the Caribbean, now face death.

Take a look at the photo of the reef below, in American Samoa. The picture on the left reflects a reef in its prime — healthy and colorful — in December last year. The middle image, taken three months later, is drastically different. The fingerlike projections of the coral appear like bones. The final image, taken in August, resembles a graveyard, with dead coral covered by a smear of algae.

The images were taken as part of the XL Caitlin Seaview Survey, a scientific effort to document the state of the world’s reefs. The ongoing chronicle will allow researchers, and the world, to document the severe changes happening just beneath the waves.

Many of the harshest impacts seen in the reefs don’t resonate as well as the loss of a forest or the smog that recently invaded Beijing, simply because the coral suffers from being out of sight. Reefs cover about 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, but they are home to 25 —> Read More