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Mass Bleaching
Introduction | Identification | Impacts | Causes | Actions | More Info

What can be done to solve this problem?

  • Understand the situation. Examine past and current attempts to solve this issue and whether these actions have been effective. You can get a sense of whether mass bleaching is being addressed locally by simply talking to people in the community and government officials.

  • Link mass bleaching with other management actions. Review the management questions in the Reef Check survey to identify whether there are management regulations in place and if they are being enforced. If there is a management structure, seek out those involved and work with them. The goal is to bring all parts of society and government together to plan how coastal resources will be used or protected. To understand how actions by citizens and the government can be part of a joint effort to manage coral reefs, review the fact sheet on ‘Integrated Coastal Management’. In addition, review the fact sheet on ‘Marine Protected Areas.’ Marine protected areas are a tool that can be used as a part of integrated coastal management.

  • How can we solve this problem?

    The global scale of mass bleaching events makes it difficult for individuals in any community to directly decrease the impacts of such events on local coral reefs. In addition, there are still questions relating to the long-term impacts on coral reef ecosystems and this scientific uncertainty may lead to inaction and indifference.

    However, by decreasing local stressors on reefs, individual citizens can help keep corals healthy and more resilient when sea surface temperatures rise. These stressors include use of cyanide for capturing fish, nutrient pollution, and industrial runoff. In addition, urging officials to sign global climate treaties that seek to decrease carbon emissions globally, individuals can further help combat the causes of global climate change and rising ocean temperatures.

    The primary incentive for combating mass bleaching is to maintain healthy reef ecosystems that can support a diversity of fish and invertebrates. Healthy reefs are better able to support local fishing, tourism activities, and other human uses. The interest expressed by the global community to better understand the science behind mass bleaching and to discover ways of decreasing the possibility of such events paves the way for a variety of educational and information-sharing opportunities that individuals can become involved in.

    What can a concerned citizen do to help?

    There are several actions that any individual can do to help decrease mass bleaching impacts on coral reefs. These include:
  • Raise public awareness about the causes of mass bleaching events. The more individuals and communities know about how global climate changes leads to elevated ocean temperatures and thus to coral bleaching, the more we can do locally to protect local reefs from these events. See "Communicating Reef Science and Environmental Education" by J. Perrello (2002).

  • Help reduce local stressors on coral reefs. Stressors such as diver and walker impacts, cyanide fishing, overfishing, and nutrient pollution can be dealt with on a local level if the community is involved in addressing these issues.

  • Reduce carbon emissions from cars. This can be done by taking public transportation rather than driving and/or purchasing a car that uses less fuel.

  • What can managers and decision-makers do to help?

    In addition to the above management recommendations for a concerned citizen, resource managers and decision-makers may have additional means available to them to decrease the impacts mass bleaching have on coral reefs. These include:
  • Determine whether coral bleaching is occurring locally and the scale of this bleaching.

  • Support efforts to monitor coral bleaching on local reefs.

  • Identify possible causes of observed coral bleaching. Possible causes include global sea surface temperature changes (see NOAA’s "hot spot" website at: www.osdpd.noaa.gov/PSB/EPS/SST/climohot.html) and/or local stress from agricultural runoff, shoreline development, diver impacts, and others.

  • Reduce or eliminate local stressors that may decrease coral reef resilience to global climate changes.

  • Educate the community, government authorities, and local industries about these global and local causes. See "Community Engagement" in Marine and Coastal Protected Areas: A Guide for Planners and Managers by Salm et al. (2000) for ways you can involve the local community when planning to establish an MPA.

  • Establish marine protected areas (MPAs) in consultation with the local community to protect healthy reef areas from local stresses, and so provide a source of corals that may help to replenish and restore adjacent bleached areas. These healthy reefs have the potential to seed nearby degraded reefs due to their natural resilience to bleaching events. Select MPA areas that are naturally resistant to elevated sea surface tempuratures. See "Site Planning and Management" in Marine and Coastal Protected Areas: A Guide for Planners and Managers by Salm et al. (2000) and Schuttenberg (2001) for information on where to site MPAs.

  • Encourage national government officials to sign global climate treaties that have been developed to promote cooperation between nations and establish recommendations to decrease the causes of rising sea surface temperatures.
  • Monitoring of bleached coral. Location: Pulau Payar Marine Park, Malaysia Photo by: Yusri bin Yusuf (from ReefBase: http://www.reefbase.org)
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