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El Niño affects Chiriqui corals
El Niño affects Chiriqui corals. One third of all marine species that live in the sea spend at least part of their lives on coral reefs, which are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, second only to rainforests.
Slow growing coral reefs are worth more than billions of dollars in revenue which they produce by providing jobs and resources. They are some of the most stunning habitats to view on the planet. They live in an area of only 0.2% of the world’s oceans, covering 600,000 km² and are responsible for some of the most powerful natural antibiotics known.
The majority of corals are composed of an inner skeleton made up of the common white compound, calcium carbonate. Most corals are found in shallow well-lit areas and may have many different species of microorganisms within their tissue. Corals can only survive for brief periods without them.
Corals have been drastically reduced by at least 50% during the last 30 years in the Caribbean. Unrestricted fishing and deforestation of coastal areas have been reported as the main long-term variables resulting in coral death. However, a simple change in the environment, such as the temperature can cause coral bleaching (loss of color).
According to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, warm water from the el Niño effect reached the shores of Panama in April, 2015 and corals at Coiba island were reported to have started to fade during that period.
Corals in Pacific Panama at the Seca Islands
Corals in Playa Pargo on the Seca Islands, 27 km from the mainland of Panama, started to show damage from July 16, 2015, onwards, when there was a dramatic bleaching event with individual species, depth, degree and color variety changing at different rates, obviously displaying variance in temperature tolerance. The coral continued to deteriorate until March 25 this year, when new, small growth of branching corals was widely evident, replacing the older, longer, thicker more bifurcated growth previously wiped out by el Niño.
High species diversity in corals may be maintained by continual change. Re-colonization by corals in a disturbed habitat such as post bleach may result in an increase in species. Grazing by sea urchins and large herbivorous fish are well known to help corals compete with fast growing algae which seek to colonize any slow growth.
Bleaching events have been predicted by some scientists to eventually begin occurring on a yearly basis due to the additional stress of higher CO2 in the atmosphere. Although one thing is for sure, the next el Niño will contribute to more mortality and more change, albeit, according to the latest research, less dramatic due to adaptation and acclimation of corals to increasing ocean temperatures.
By Dr Bill McGraw