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Environmental Problem Solving and Scientific Thinking ENVR 2270 Term Paper

Zoe Wreggitt 7729509 Dr. M. Hanson November, 27th 2013

Coral reefs are vital marine ecosystems that host biodiversity (Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999). They are composed of coral, which is a symbiotic relationship between invertebrates and dinoflagellate microalgae (zooxanthellae) (Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999). Coral reefs are populated by a large variety of other species that interact with one another. They play many important roles in the environment and the economy (Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999). They offer protection for coastlines by breaking waves which protect infrastructure and coastal ecosystems, as well as preventing erosion. Reefs are also very relevant in the tourism and fishery fields. Many different species, including humans, depend on coral reefs for their ecological goods and services (Lough, 2007). Marine organisms use corals for shelter, protection, and sustenance. Humans depend on coral reefs because they provide jobs through fisheries and they may contain crucial biochemicals that are be needed for antibiotics (Lough, 2007). Regardless of the dependance that humans have on coral reefs, society continues to exploit and deplete them. Anthropocentric climate change has largely been impacting the ocean’s natural systems. Sea surface temperature (SST) has increased by approximately 1°C in the past 100 years (HoeghGuldberg, 1999). Warmer than normal water temperature (higher then the summer maximum) cause coral to “bleach”. Coral bleaching is an event where some of the zooxanthellae abandon the host coral tissue leaving an overall lower concentration of the algal component. This produces “bleached” white coral due to the loss of photosynthetic pigments. Once coral is bleached it may recover if it is repopulated by the dinoflagellate microalgae within approximately three years (Fabricus et. al., 2004), however, the longer the rejuvenation takes, the



less likely it is that the coral will return to its original state. When bleached, coral is much more susceptible to starvation, disease, and mortality (Mydlarz et. al., 2010). The chance of recovery and the estimated period of time depends on the type of species and the surrounding conditions. Coral bleaching can occur from other environmental stressors that are not temperature related, such as, the amount of ultraviolet radiation that reaches the coral, El Niño oscillation currents, tropical storms, and the salinity and chemistry of the water. All of these environmental stressors are discussed in further detail below. There is an impressive amount of evidence that supports coral bleaching due to human impacts. For example, the rise in sea temperature or the acidification is likely due to human-driven climate change from the greenhouse gas effect. Anthropocentric pollution is prevalent in many ways; the heightened atmospheric carbon levels and toxic runoff are just two examples. It is clear that Anthropocentric climate change is an ecologically significant contributor to the bleaching of coral reefs.

Supporting Science
Sea Surface Temperature Coral bleaching due to anthropocentric climate change has many different causes. One of the most agreed upon human-induced changes is the increase in sea temperature during the last century (Brown et. al., 1996). Figure 1 effectively shows the increasing SST trend in the Maldives during the past fifty years (Edwards et al., 2001). From data similar to the temperatures recorded in the Maldives, researchers have been able to conclude that bleaching occurs when sea



Volume 42/Number 1/January 2001

surface temperatures are above the average maximum.`unprecedented' Analysis conducted on coral colonies in (Wilkinson et al. , 1999) nature of the
May 1998 anomaly is clear. The 11 yr moving average of April bleaching mean SST for central increased by the Maldives showed a very high correlation between coral andthe SST. The Maldives researchers 0:64°C between 1955 and 1995. Linear regression of April mean monthly SST against year is highly signi®that published Coral Bleaching and Mortality on Artificial Reefs in Maldives cant and …p <Natural 0:001† and suggests a rise ofin 0:16°C per decade. If this trend continues, by 2030 mean April SST in the centralobtained Maldives their will normally exceed that which 1998, Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies and Initial Recovery results by would be expected to occur once in 20 yr based on 1950± 2000 data.

analyzing artificial reefs near the Maldives for four years. A detailed survey was taken of the

extent of for the bleached corals from February to March in 1999 - event approximately Fig. 1 SSTs the central atolls of the Maldives. Solid squares show bleaching in Maldives ten months postthe 1950±99 mean monthly SST (Æ S.D). Open squares show Table 1 summarizes reports sent to the US National the GISST2.3b monthly mean SSTs for 1998 (average of values and Administration bleaching. data  provided theirin paper shows mean initial live coralAtmospheric cover in 1997 was for eightThe 1° latitude 1° longitudein squares the area speci- that Oceanographic ®ed) with lines extending upward to show highest mean (NOAA) coral bleaching `hotspots' (Goreau and Hayes, monthly SST recorded in the area.
Goreau et al., 2000) web site. They suggest that in the central atolls bleaching began in mid-April with sea high usually in April (Fig. 1) but sometimes in May. In This huge decrease healthy coral showed very high correlation measured between SST and coral temperatures by divers rising about 2±3°C the central atolls, thein average seasonal rise is a about above the mean monthly bulk SSTs (April ˆ 29:40°C, 1:3°C and mean monthly SSTs rarely exceed 30°C. ˆ 29:25°C for 1950±99) late April and the ®rst During the (Figure SW monsoon mean monthly SST slowly bleaching 1) (Edwards et al., 2001). However, May it is important to note that in increased SST half of May. Signi®cant warming continued until declines. In the central atolls in 1998, GISST2.3b data around the end of May when temperatures had declined show that monthly mean SST was 1.2±4.0 S.D. above affected somethe coral species more than others. with Researchers speculated that the zooxanthellae to about 1°C above mean monthly bulk SST and some average during warmest months (March±June) recovery was evident. the greatest anomaly in May of ‡2:1°C (Fig. 1). This May anomaly was 1may :1°C influence above the highest meanthat some species have to bleaching. However, component of coral the resistance monthly SST (30:3°C) expected in any 20 yr period. The Impact of bleaching on coral communities on arti®cial GISST2.3b data suggest that abnormally elevated sea reefs the affects were still significant enough to the examined coral species that researchers were able temperatures were experienced by corals in May (Fig. 1). By mid±late 1994 approximately 500 live coral coloTo put the 1998 anomaly in a long-term context, Fig. 2 nies were recorded on each of three 50 m2 arti®cial reefs to conclude that and coralMay bleaching from increased sea surface temperatures. These increased shows the April (when results SSTs reach their made of 1 m cube SHED blocks, with 20% of colonies annual peak) mean and maximum SSTs for the central over 10 cm in diameter and the largest colonies on each Maldives for temperatures 1950±2000 with ana11 yr moving average sea surface are result of anthropocentric climate reaching change. 25±30 cm in diameter (Fig. 3(a)). structure for April SST overlaid to show decadal-scale trends. The Approximately 5% of these corals …n ˆ 70† were massive species, with the majority of recruits being Acropora spp. (46%) and Pocillopora spp. (49%). On similar sized Fig. 1Armor¯ex The long-term SST ofmattress the Maldives in April/May. concrete structures Acropora coloThis graph shows a clear increasing trend 1950 to nies (<3 yr old) were approaching from 20 cm in diameter by 2000. Severe coral bleaching occurred in the Maldives late 1994. in both 1987 and 1998. In 1998 the temperature was Sporadic visits from 1994 to 1998 indicated continued one degree warmer than anytime in the previous 50 growth and recruitment on the arti®cial structures. Postyears. bleaching measurements of a sample of the largest recently dead Acropora colonies …n ˆ 15† and the largest Pocillopora colonies …n ˆ 15† on the SHEDs were made in early August 1998 and compared to comparable samples …n ˆ 15† from 1994. These indicated growth in mean maximum diameter from 20 to 37 cm for Pocillopora and from 21 to 67 cm for Acropora colonies in the Fig. 2 The long-term context of the 1998 warming event. In Maldives circa 4 yr prior to bleaching. The largest Porites colonies SSTs normally peak in April but occasionally in May. Mean monthly SSTs for the central Maldives, for April and May had reached maximum diameters of 20±24 cm from 10± from 1950 to 2000, are shown together with the least-squares 13.5 cm in 1994. The greatest and least diameters of the best-®t linear regression line …p < 0:001† and 11 yr running 15 largest Acropora colonies (then <7-yr old) recruited average for April SST to show decadal-scale trends. Lines extending upwards from columns indicate the highest SST reto the Armor¯ex mattresses were also measured. The corded among the eight 1° squares comprising the study area. largest colony was 135  102 cm2 across when killed by Major coral bleaching was recorded in 1987 and 1998. Mean ! 4 bleaching and the colonies had an average geometric monthly SST in May 1998 was a full degree warmer than anytime in the previous half-century. mean diameter of 86.8 cm (S.E. 3.6). Extension rates 9 1994; Gleeson and Strong, 1995; Strong et al., 1997; 42%, and that by August 1998 the living coral decreased to 2% (Table 1) (Edwards et al., 2001).

Local reports of the timing and progress of the 1998

Marine Pollution Bulletin

Table 13 TABLE
Mean percentage live coral cover Æ95% con®dence limits recorded at sites in the central atolls of the Maldives before and after the 1998 bleaching event.a % live coral cover Pre-bleaching Survey sites/atolls Bandos (Mal e) Other sites (Mal e) Patch reef (Felidhu) 3 m depth 10 m depth Foththeyo (Felidhu) Vattaru Various sites (Ari) Thuvaru (Mulakatholu) 3 m depth 10 m depth Maduvvari (Mulakatholu) 3 m depth 10 m depth Central atolls MRS/ERU (various reports) 37:3 Æ 11:0 …n ˆ 4† 40:2 Æ 8:0 …n ˆ 8† ± ± ± ± ± ± ± ± MRS Reef Check August 1997 ± ± 57:5 Æ 11:7 …n ˆ 4† 47:5 Æ 11:3 …n ˆ 4† ± ± ± 28:1 Æ 17:9 …n ˆ 4† 40:0 Æ 8:6 …n ˆ 4† 53:8 Æ 17:6 …n ˆ 4† 33:8 Æ 9:5 …n ˆ 4† 42:0 Æ 4:0 …n ˆ 36† Post-bleaching GCRMN August±October 1998 4:1 Æ 5:7 …n ˆ 4†Ã 1:3 Æ 0:7 …n ˆ 8†Ãà 1:3 Æ 1:0 …n ˆ 3† 4:6 Æ 2:4 …n ˆ 4† 2:7 Æ 2:2 …n ˆ 3† 1:1 Æ 0:8 …n ˆ 15† ± ± ± ± MRS Reef Check August 1998 ± ± 0:0 Æ 0:0 …n ˆ 4†Ã 2:5 Æ 3:2 …n ˆ 4†Ã ± ± ± 0:0 Æ 0:0 …n ˆ 4†Ã 1:3 Æ 4:0 …n ˆ 4†Ã 5:0 Æ 7:3 …n ˆ 4†Ã 3:8 Æ 2:3 …n ˆ 4†Ã 2:0 Æ 0:6 …n ˆ 61†ÃÃ

a The number of transects surveyed are recorded in parentheses. The patch reef surveyed in Felidhu was north of Kuda Anbaraa. Sources of data are various reports to the Marine Research Section (MRS) of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (ERU), Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment, surveys carried out under the auspices of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) South Asia, and Reef Check surveys carried out by the Marine Research Section (Allison, 1999; Zahir et al., 1998; Naeem et al., 1998). * Reduction in live coral cover signi®cant at p < 0:05; ÃÃ Reduction in live coral cover significant at p < 0:001 (Mann±Whitney U-tests except where all post-bleaching transects have 0% live coral cover when Wilcoxon signed rank tests were used).

Ultraviolet Radiation Anthropocentric climate change has many negative effects on the environment, one of them being depletion to the ozone layer. Manufactured chemicals such as chlorofluuorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochloroflourocarbons(HCFCs) catalyze the degradation of ozone in the stratosphere at very high rates 2010). The decrease inby ozone permits dangerously high Fig. 5 (EPA, Comparison of the taxonomic composition family of coral levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation to reach the Earth surface.
recruits recorded on the SHED structures during 1990-94 and in the 10 months post-bleaching. Despite 98% mortality of branching corals (Acroporidae and Pocilloporidae) on the structures, recruitment is still dominated by these families. Recruits are `visible' recruits, i.e., those which have survived to at least c. 0.5 cm diameter post-settlement. Acroporid and pocilloporid corals are unshaded and other families are shaded in grey to emphasize the community shift.

Ultraviolet radiation is a significant cause of coral bleaching (Gleason et al.,1993). Evidence
pocilloporids, with the remaining 33% being recruits of SHED structures acroporids pocilloporids, shows that bleaching has occurred when sea temperatures were notwere above averageand and salinity massive species (Fig. 5). 60% of the juveniles recorded as recruits were 2.5 cm or less in mean diameter. The taxonomic composition the post-bleaching recruitwas normal (Gleason of et al.,1993). Gleason and ment is compared in Fig. 5 to that in a 3.5 yr period from 1990 to 1994, when some 94% of recruits to the 12 with only 6% contributed by massive families. On a nearby natural reef ¯at in March 1999 the mean density …S:E: Æ 2:4† for with 22% of of recruits was 23.2 an mÀ2experiment Wellington conducted their recruits of massive species (Poritidae, Faviidae, Merulinidae, Agariciidae, Siderastreidae) and 78% branching

paper Ultraviolet radiation and coral bleaching, that involved transplanting Montastrea annularis
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coral to various depths in September/October to replicate the amount of UV light exposure that coral may experience in the summer (when UV radiation is at it’s highest). Two different samples of M. annularis were successfully transplanted to a depth of 12 m; one colony was completely exposed to the UV radiation, while the other was shielded from the rays via an acrylic cover. After only seven days of exposure the exposed colony showed a significant loss in pigmentation. At the end of the research term (21 days) drastic differences in colour were apparent between both 12 m colonies; bleaching was evident in the exposed colony while there was no palpable colouration change in the shielded colony. Figure 2 (Gleason et al.,1993) shows the zooxanthella densities and the chlorophyll concentrations for the corals at different depths. The temperature of water averaged at 29.1°C ± .12, which is an acceptable temperature for normal summer water conditions. From the results Gleason and Wellington were able to conclude that UV-induced bleaching can occur without the presence of increased sea temperature.

Fig. 2 Effects of radiation on a) zooxanthella densities and b) chlorophyll concentrations per cm of coral surface area in M. annularis colonies at different depths.

El Niño In 1997 a mass coral bleaching event occurred effecting more than fifty countries’ coral reefs
© 1993 Nature Publishing Group

which resulted in huge coral mortality rates (Fabricus et. al., 2004). In the paper El Niño/ Southern Oscillation and tropical Pacific climate during the last millenium, the researchers found
© 1993 Nature Publishing Group

that intense bleaching often occurs simultaneously with El Niño periods (Cobb et. al., 2003). The
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unusual extremity of El Niño periods in the 1980s and 1990s are widely believed to be linked with anthropocentric climate change (Cobb et. al., 2003). Prior to the mass bleaching in the late 1900’s, there were no documented mass bleaching events except for the bleaching in the coasts of Jamaica that resulted from Hurricane Flora in 1964 (NOAA). However, this bleaching occurred from low salinity due to the flooding that the hurricane caused. Tropical Storms: Cyclones Cyclones are tropical storms that can cause extreme damage to coral reefs (Woesik et. al., 1995). Cyclones are usually associated with heavy rainfall which often results in flooding (Woesik et. al., 1995). If the water is not saline enough the coral will bleach. This can occur after a heavy rainfall or near the mouth of a river. Cyclones also may decrease the amount of light penetration that reaches coral due to suspended sediment particles (from flooding runoff) (Woesik et. al., 1995). By analyzing historical cyclone patterns, researchers are able to predict what future cyclone trends will be. Researchers for the paper Changes in Tropical Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment found that within the next 30 years it is expected that cyclone frequency and intensity will increase as a result of anthropocentric climate change. Effects of Cyclone ‘Joy’ on nearby coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef showed conclusive results that a decrease in salinity due to flooding directly caused coral bleaching. The flood that Cyclone ‘Joy’ created was the third largest in more than one hundred years in the Queensland plain. Three different reefs at varying distances from the mainland were documented before the cyclone (in November) and after the cyclone and its flooding (in May). The results showed that there was a large increase in coral mortality due to bleaching. At the middle reef site
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the escalation in bleached coral cover was p < .001, a significant increase according to the researchers. Coral susceptibility to decreased salinity levels depended not only on the scale in which the decrease occurred, but also on the species of coral. Researchers found that some species were much more resistant to the bleaching (Figure 3) (Woesik et. al., 1995). However, Mar Ecol Prog Ser 128: 261-270, 1995 overall, researchers found that the floodwater significantly increased the amount of bleaching.
specific indicators of stress which could have been exacerbated by heavy sediment load and low light Fig. 3 Percentage of coral cover in 1990 and 1991 on conditions in the water column (Rogers 1979). Middle Reef, Queensland, Australia. a) Acropora spp such b) as Necrosis of important structural components Montipora spp filaments and tentacles was the direct result mesogleal of lysis, leaving behind cellular debris and pyknotic nuclei. The mechanism by which bacterial emboli developed m the subepidermis was unknown, although these have been reported in anemones Ceriantheopsis americanus exposed to dredge spoil (Peters & Yevich 1 2 3 4 S 6 Sites 1989). The ability of corals to recover from medium term exposure to floodwaters, was evident by the presMontipora ence of hyperplasia in the border tissues. What cellular 1 9 9 0 01991 processes prevented stress in faviids is unknown; however, the reduced exposure of the body wall to the external environment, largely a consequence of their morphology, may increase resistance. Previously, Muthiga & Szmant (1987) reported on the resistance of the Atlantic species Siderastrea siderea to reduced salinities, a species similar to many faviids. These authors suggested that polyps retract in response to environmental extremes (not only in hypo-saline conditions), to produce 'blanching'. This term was recently coined by Brown & Ogden (1993) to describe (tempoFig. 5 (a) Percentage cover of Acropora spp. in 1990 and 1991, rary) visible paling without loss of photosynethic pigfor 6 sites on Middle Reef, Queensland, Austral~a. ( b ) PercentAcidification a g e cover of Montipora spp in 1990 and 1991, for 6 sites on ments or zooxanthellae (Brown et al. 1994). Middle Reef Shallow communities on Middle Reef exhibited mortality only in colonies of Acropora spp. (A, latistella, A. Coral sedimentation bleaching is also occurring to Staffordthe growingvalida, acidity the oceans. The pH of the oceans 1989), (Hubbard et al.due 1991, A.of digitifera and A. tenuis). Pocilloporids were Smith 19931, sandblasting (Ball et al. 1967), or rare. No net change in coral cover was evident, decreases in ambient light (Rogers 1979).The field colalthough a shift in community composition occurred. are changing due to the high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2)in the atmosphere, which has lections and subsequent histopathologlcal examinaCover of Montipora spp. had increased considerably tions of Acropora and pocilloporid species from the between sampling periods, compensating for the loss substantially since the industrial Keppel Islands increased showed that the most acute and revolution. wideof Oceans Acroporauptake spp. atmospheric carbon dioxide spread effect of the floodwater was gross swelling and In the Whitsunday Islands, the upper slope commulysis of the epidermal cells. The absence of an infecnities showed nobicarbonate detectable change in coral cover or which reacts with water to create carbonic acid. While this occurs, ions are depleted tious agent and inflammation indicated that damage signs of necrosis. Deep water pocilloporids, specifically was most likely a hypo-osmotic effect of low salinities. Seriatopora hystrix, were most affected and were which are essential toamounts skeletalof organisms, as coral. The reduction bicarbonate ions makes The production of large mucus and such expulobserved undergoingin necrosis in situ during the tropision of zooxanthellae from the gastrodermis were lesscal depression (M. Stafford-Smith pers. comm.).Analyses ofal, all2012). sites showed no significant (overall) coral it more difficult for calcification to occur (Kaniewska et. Pocilloporidae mortality; however, significant mortality was apparent 1 9 9 0 0 1 9 9 1 when sites with abundant pocilloporid cover were analysed independently. These results emphasize that subtle changes to corals can be masked by the patchy ! 8 distributions of associated organisms. The small polyps of Seriatopora hystrix suggest that autotrophy (Porter 1976), via photosynthesis by the endo-symbiont, is the primary source of energy. Respi1 9 9 0 01991


The increase in carbon dioxide has possibly led to the rise in sea temperature and ocean acidification. Currently, approximately 30% of carbon dioxide emitted by humans is being absorbed by the ocean (Anthony et. al., 2008). The experiment in Ocean ocean acidification causes bleaching and productivity loss in coral reef builders involved sectioning coral reefs into “aquariums” to control the CO2 levels and the temperature. The results showed that CO2 caused 40-50% bleaching of corals in colonies that were subject to high CO2 dosing. Similar, but slightly less severe results occurred in the other aquaria with lower CO2 dosing. The experiment tested the impacts of both temperature and acidification (through different levels of temperature and different CO2 dosing amounts). The results showed that acidification causes more bleaching compared to the aquaria with higher temperatures. This is controversial with statements earlier in the paper because it is much more widely accepted that temperature has the largest impact on coral bleaching.

Refuting Science
Sea Surface Temperature The relationship between sea surface temperature and coral bleaching was discussed in detail above. However, there are other considerations that must be taken into account when comparing these factors. Firstly, SST may vary greatly from the temperature of the water surrounding the coral reef. SST is only a measure of the first few millimeters of water therefore solar radiation may elevate the temperature. Also, these temperatures were generated from satellites which lack specificity (Brown, 1996). Satellite measurements are only accurate then to the 0.5°C. These



facts show that the correlation between SST and coral bleaching are not very strong. Thus, a concrete conclusion with regards to SST affecting bleaching cannot be made. Ultraviolet Radiation Gleason and Wellington found significant evidence that supported their hypothesis that ozone depletion (due to anthropocentric pollution) will increase UV radiation thus causing more coral bleaching. However, it is apparent in their research that organic matter and other particulates floating above coral colonies provide protection from UV rays. In their paper they theorize that coral beaching due to UV radiation will have more drastic effects to coral during calm and clear water conditions than UV rays will have on coral simply due to ozone depletion. Very minimal coral bleaching is expected to occur from heightened UV radiation due to anthropocentric ozone depletion. The bleaching that occurs from UV rays, that are transmitted through “holes in the ozone”, are only expected to occur at low latitudes. The theory that bleaching due to clear water conditions is supported by the observation that El Niño events (which create clearer than normal water conditions) coincided with the bleaching that occurred from 1987-1990. Some of these bleaching events had no significant temperature change, just water columns that were especially clear. Gleason and Wellington state that increases in UV radiation intensity due to anthropocentric climate change may be minimal at low latitudes and therefore may not necessarily be a factor in bleaching. Another important consideration to take into account is the fact that the increase in UV radiation is not just caused by anthropocentric climate change. The sun will produce more UV radiation as it goes through it’s cycles and during solar flares (Hathaway, 2011) Also, UV radiation intensity



depends on the season with regards to the inclination of the planet with respect to the sun (Hathaway, 2011). It is important to note that the distance between the earth and sun varies throughout time because distance has an effect on the UV radiation intensity (Hathaway, 2011). This shows that bleaching from heightened UV radiation and from increased SST can be caused by natural cycles, like that of the sun. El Niño Scientists now have technology that enables them to use coral fossils to estimate sea surface temperature and El Niño events in the past as well as if any major bleaching events occurred (Cobb et. al., 2003). They found that El Niño periods in the seventeenth century were more intense and frequent then the El Niño events in the twentieth century. Therefore, bleaching events occurring before the industrial revolution could have had no influence from anthropocentric climate change. The researchers were not able to come to a complete conclusion because there is not enough evidence to fully support their hypothesis: that El Niño events are becoming more severe from anthropocentric climate change, thus causing coral bleaching. There is currently no evidence that links severe El Niño periods with anthropocentric climate change (Cobb et. al., 2003). Tropical Storms: Cyclones Some researchers found that the frequency of cyclones is increasing (Webster et. el., 2005) due to anthropocentric climate change, however, some researchers have concluded that there is no evidence to support this (Emanuel 2005). In Emanuel’s paper Increasing destructiveness of tropical storms over the past 30 years, she stated that there is no detectable trend in the global
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annual frequency of cyclones in history. Her conclusion is that there is no sound evidence to make scientific, fact-based predictions on cyclone ferocity or on the cause of cyclones. Therefore, acceptable to state that intense coral bleaching is caused by factors that are not related to humans. Cyclones are natural storms that can cause extensive damage and bleaching to coral reefs, regardless of the presence and/or impact of humans. Figure 3 (BOM) illustrates that there is no significant increasing trend in cyclone frequency and intensity in the Australian region.

Figure 3 The number of cyclones, severe and non-severe, that occurred in the Australian region from 1970-2011. http://



Acidification Coral bleaching can occur from acidification that is caused by carbon dioxide that is released into the environment by humans. It is important to note that volcanic eruptions also contribute a fair amount of CO to the atmosphere. It is not possible to fully know the extent of carbon dioxide emissions produced from volcanoes because the amounts vary depending on how active the volcano is. Also, there is a vast amount of unexplored ocean that could contain numerous underwater volcanoes. Here is an example to get an idea of the CO emissions of a single volcano: in 1984 after an eruption from Mauna Loa it was producing over 100 000 metric tons per year (Ryan, 2010). Acidification is a natural process that is caused by environmental factors such as volcanic eruptions. However, it appears that the rate of acidification is being increased as a result of anthropocentric carbon dioxide (Anthony et. al., 2008).

There is significant evidence that supports that a portion of coral bleaching is due to anthropocentric climate change. There is plenty of data to support the increasing trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (leading to acidification), sea surface temperature, tropical storms, and the intensity of El Niño events which all lead to coral bleaching. While all of these ecological factors show direct correlation to coral bleaching, it is important to take into consideration the slight flaws in some of the data and the fact that other natural factors contribute to coral bleaching as well. To conclude, there is enough evidence to support the claim that the recent mass coral bleaching events are largely due to the impacts of anthropocentric climate change.



Anthony K., Kline D., Diaz-Pulido G., Dove S., Hoegh-Guldberg O. 2008. Ocean acidification causes bleaching and productivity loss in coral reef builders, PNAS, 105: 17442-17446. Bureau of Meteorology; Australian Government (No date). Tropical Cyclone Trends [Online] Available: Cobb, K., Charles, C., Cheng, H., Edwards, R., 2003. El Niño/Southern Oscillation and tropical Pacific climate during the last millennium, Nature, 424: 271. Edwards A, Clark S, Zahira H, Rajasuriyas A, Naseera A, and Rubens J. 2001. Coral Bleaching and Mortality on Artificial and Natural Reefs in Maldives in 1998, Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies and Initial Recovery. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 42: 7-15. Emmanuel K. 2005. Increasing destructiveness f tropical cyclones over the past 30 years. Nature, 436: 686-688. Fabricus K.E., Nueig J.C., Colin P.L., Idip D., Van Oppen M.J.H. 2004. Identity and diversity of coral endosymbionts (zooxanthellae) from three Palauan reefs with contrasting bleaching, temperature and shading histories. Molecular Ecology, 13: 2446. Gleason D, Wellington G. 1993. Ultraviolet radiation and coral bleaching. Nature, 365: 836-838. Hathaway D., NASA (2011). The Sun [Online] Available: quests.shtml Kaniewska, P., Campbell, P., Kline, D., Rodriguez-Lanetty, M., Miller, D., Dove, S., HoeghGuldberg, O., 2012, Major Cellular and Physiological Impacts of Ocean Acidification on a Reef Building Coral Plos One, 7: 1. Lough J. 2007. a changing climate for coral reefs. Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 10: 21-29. Mydlarz L., McGiny E., Harvell D., 2010. What are the physiological and immunological responses of coral to climate warming and disease? Experimental Biology, 213: 934 NOAA. (No date). Coral Bleaching - Background [Online] Available:

Ryan S.: NASA, Earth Observatory (2010). How do scientists know that Mauna Loa’s volcanic emissions don’t affect the carbon dioxide data collected there? [Online]. Available: http://



Webster P, Holland G, Crry J, Chang H. 2005. Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment. Science, 309: 1844-1847. Woesik R, Vantier L, Glazebrook J. 1995. Effects of Cyclone ‘Joy’ on nearshore coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 128: 261-270.