• Coral reefs in Hawaii are at risk of bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures to 2 degree Celsius.

Coral reefs in Hawaii are at risk of bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures to 2 degree Celsius. (Photo : Wikipedia)

Scientists announced that warmer ocean temperatures experienced in Hawaii this year will bring about the worst coral bleaching event that the islands have ever seen.

According to Ruth Gates who is the director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, right now, many coral reefs are still recovering from last year's massive bleaching that is caused by warmer waters forcing algae to disappear in their natural habitat that corals rely on for food.

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This natural disaster is called bleaching since coral lose their vibrant colors as they expel algae. According to meteorologist Chris Brenchley of the US National Weather Service in Honolulu, the island chain of Hawaii experienced a mass bleaching event in 1996 and one last year. However, this year, ocean temperatures circulating around Hawaii are two degrees Celsius higher than normal.

The devastating effects of bleaching on corals include an increased risk in coral disease, making them weaker, causing death, and affecting other marine ecosystems such as fish that live and spawn inside coral reefs.

Gates compares dead coral reefs to a destroyed city, where rubble is only left behind. She describes how corals are supposedly vibrant and teeming with marine life and color, now transforming into a flat pavement, covered in green or brown algae.

Gates reveals that 30 to 40 percent of the planet's coral reefs had suffered and died due to bleaching events over the years. However, Hawaii's reefs are not one of them, as they had been spared from large scale die-offs until now. More so, most corals that were bleached last year came back to life. 

However, scientists are now more concerned as these corals will have to withstand the effects of warmer temperatures that has been ongoing for two years in a row. 

Bleaching events across Hawaii include Kaneohe Bay, Waimanalo in Oahu and Olowalu in Maui. At the Big Island, bleaching reports come from Kawaihae to South Kona and the Kapoho in southeast of the island. 

Brenchley says it is still unknown why waters around Hawaii and other regions of the northeast Pacific ocean are warmer than usual this year.

Under United States jurisdiction, Hawaii is home to 85 percent of coral reefs where 69 percent is located in the uninhabited islands of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The remaining 15 percent of US coral are found among the main Hawaiian islands spanning from Niihau up north to the Big Island in the south, home to 1.4 million residents.