Coral reefs serve an important part of our ecosystem and economy, but according to NOAA’s coral bleaching warning system, Guam’s reefs may be subject to be a level two bleaching alert within a month, which may entail coral death.
With more than 350 known species, Guam is home to one of the most diverse coral reef systems within the United States. And the coral reefs lining the coasts of the island not only draw island tourists from all over the world, they also serve as a buffer against tsunamis, or help fish thrive within their cracks and crevices.
However, they also bleach — fading from being shades of vibrant reds, oranges, and purples to a skeletal bone white when exposed to stress from environmental changes.
According to a study conducted by University of Guam researchers, multiple bleaching events triggered by above-average sea temperatures killed off more than one-third of coral reefs on the island and up to 60 percent along its eastern coast from 2013 to 2017.
Whitney Hoot, a coral biologist, spoke about how the data was collected through taking photos of different reef sites throughout the coast.
“We surveyed these sites repeatedly throughout the event to gauge how these communities are doing and how are they faring. And they bleached quite badly in 2016. In 2017, we saw a slightly different pattern. We checked our canary sites and they were doing okay, but our deeper reef sites were bleaching very severely. We’re still really learning about how these bleaching events impact our reef and what are the best ways we can monitor them and gather the best data to figure out which of our reefs are doing well and which of them are struggling,” Hoot said.
According to Hoot and her fellow researchers, David Burdick, and Laurie Raymundo, the bleaching was most likely caused by excess carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, warming water temperatures and making conditions unsuitable for the coral to thrive.
But while the situation may seem bleak, the biologists remain optimistic and encourage community members and lawmakers to pay attention to this issue as it is one that affects not just the reef, but everyone.
“So I do firmly believe that it’s the power of individuals and probably people coming up from the grassroots level that is going to stimulate this change. Because a lot of our world leaders … they aren’t doing it for us. If it comes from the bottom and from these individual actions, then I think it’s where my optimism comes from,” Hoot said.
If you are interested in being involved with programs to benefit the reefs, check out Eyes of the Reef at eormarianas.org for volunteer opportunities.