All of these signs point towards coral reefs that are highly resilient and already quickly rebounding. Fortunately, the corals that did die are those that grow the fastest, produce large quantities of larvae, and exhibit very high settlement. Unlike the devastating coral bleaching event in 1998, research done by Coral Reef CPR on 10 atolls and over 70 reefs suggests that most reefs will rebound and look much like they did prior to the bleaching event within five years.
Coral recruits survived the bleaching and will help to reseed reefs.
Globally, 2016 is the warmest year on record, exceeding the second warmest - 2015. These steamy temperatures are a result of climate change combined with the longest El Niño on record. In the Maldives, sea water temperatures heated up to 31-33˚C in April/May, the sea was unusually calm, currents were absent and there was no cloud cover. These conditions were intolerable for the corals, and resulted in a high level of bleaching and losses in many locations.
The good news:
Not all corals died, however and some reefs escaped the perilous conditions. The long-lived massive boulder corals bleached, but most recovered. On the reef slopes some of the branching, table, plating and foliaceous corals survived. There are dead corals, but many are still living, and beginning to regain their coloration. The key in rapid recovery is the presence of unusually high numbers of juvenile corals and recruits that settled last year. Further, some corals appear to be adapting to the warmer waters – they did not bleach at all, and when these spawn they will produce larvae that can reseed damaged areas. We also found reefs on Ari Atoll and Baa Atoll where there was virtually no coral death and they still have thriving coral communities.
Andy Bruckner and Georgia Coward
Coral Reef CPR Corp. is a registered 501c(3) in the USA.