Great Caribbean coral die-off
March 31, 2006 2:54 PM   Subscribe

The great Caribbean coral die-off. "The 2005 die-off is bigger than all the previous 20 years combined".. magnitude never before-seen.. sea surface temps worst in the 21 years of satellite monitoring. NOAA preliminary reports with cool graphs to left.
posted by stbalbach (39 comments total)
Well, that's a major bummer.

posted by teece at 2:56 PM on March 31, 2006

Expect this to continue. Gulf seawater temperatures remain very high, and will also cause another nasty hurricane season.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:57 PM on March 31, 2006

What happens to the ocean ecosystem if all the coral dies?
posted by teece at 2:59 PM on March 31, 2006

You know, I didn't think the idea of coral dying would make me sad, but then I looked up some images of brain coral. Really quite beautiful. And now I am sad.

Not that things must be beautiful before their dying can be lamented; I just never really thought much about coral previously
posted by davejay at 2:59 PM on March 31, 2006

Goreau called what's happening worldwide "an underwater holocaust."


That they're disappearing is enough. No need for such stupid metaphors.
posted by HTuttle at 3:07 PM on March 31, 2006

It's about time. We've been poisoning the water and air for so long I'm surprised it's lasted this long.
posted by disgruntled at 3:15 PM on March 31, 2006

We are so fucked.
posted by jokeefe at 3:29 PM on March 31, 2006

teece, the coral reef is the foundation upon which most known sealife depends upon.

_sirmissalot_'s link about pH levels is sobering, in a "we've allready run out of time" sorta way.

We knew this was coming. The data has been available for a while.

We could stop everything... every source of CO2...

...but it doesn't matter anymore.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 3:38 PM on March 31, 2006

coral is an expression of an entire ecosystem. it is Life in the aggregate, and its dying...
posted by kuatto at 4:42 PM on March 31, 2006

When you only have data that goes back 20 years, I don't put much stock in it.
posted by smackfu at 4:58 PM on March 31, 2006

This is so sad. If global warming were to raise the sea level and damage low-lying cities, it would be a major problem, but not irreversible. Cities can be rebuilt in a century. If arctic temperatures warmed, polar bear, etc. populations would decrease, but they wouldn't go extinct. But the coral reefs simply can't recover in anything approaching a human timespan. The article says that up to one third of the Carribean coral being monitored has died recently. I'm not sure what "recently means", but even if that's over the past five years, and even if this is a bad stretch, at rates like that, it seems foolish to expect more than a fraction of a percent of the original reefs to be alive 100 years from now.
posted by gsteff at 5:18 PM on March 31, 2006

This is so sad. ... But the coral reefs simply can't recover in anything approaching a human timespan.

The loss of color and life in the coral reefs may be sad, but it will be interesting to see what migrates up from some of the harsher regions of the ocean to live in our hotter, more acidic ocean. There are all kinds of crazy organisms living in places we previously thought could not possibly support life. We may have the opportunity to discover numerous organisms that humans have never previously encountered.

Some things are probably badly broken, but we need to figure out how to survive and adapt.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:02 PM on March 31, 2006

smackfu, what amount of data do you need? I'm curious.
posted by ioerror at 6:16 PM on March 31, 2006

Note to self: add dead coral to list of reasons we're fucked, along with peak oil, diebold control of voting machines, and progressively more restrictive intellectual property laws.

Thank God for flash games to take our minds off the apocalypse.
posted by edheil at 6:23 PM on March 31, 2006

Everyone looks at this species extinction and says either "poor coral" or "its just some dumb coral anyway" and yet I wonder how long it is before mankind is facing extinction...

We may have the opportunity to discover numerous organisms that humans have never previously encountered.

I hate to say it, but more species are becoming extinct than discovered.
posted by j-urb at 6:28 PM on March 31, 2006

What smackfu said. The coral is ancient for a reason; not that this isn't a Bad Thing, but I'm not sure I believe that coral will just go like that.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:38 PM on March 31, 2006

I was talking to a few climate scientists last year. What I noticed.

They're all depressed.

1) They get shat on by fools who don't understand the data, or cherry pick it to prove nothing's going on, when it's obvious as hell that global warming is very real, very much here now, and very much our fault.

2) Far more importantly, they all think we're really fucked. Year after year this decade, they've watched the number blow right by the "you're a fearmonging fool" trend lines -- and keep going.

Normally, you'd get the one guy who predicts nothing's going to happen, the group in the middle, and the one guy predicting DOOM! Year after year, the guy predicting DOOM! is the guy who's closest to correct -- only because the data came back well beyond DOOM!

So, everyone shifts their predictions -- and DOOM! is too meek *again.* Next year, everyone makes predictions that they would have citcd as evidence of insanity three years before, and once again, DOOM! is too conservative. After a while, it gets to you.

I asked, honestly, do you think we lose the Arctic Cap1 in thirty years?

The answer? "Used to be fifty. Now? 2010, tops." One added "I wouldn't be that surprised if it melts away next year".

That would be this summer. Maybe, for once, DOOM! will be wrong.

But that's not the way to bet.

[1] Artic ice cap, over the Artic Ocean, not the Antartic ice cap over Antartica. Note that the Artic Cap melting doesn't increase sea levels, since it is already floating.
posted by eriko at 6:44 PM on March 31, 2006

My understanding (and I may very well be mistaken) is that it increases sea levels, but only slightly due to accumulated precipitation above sea level. Greenland moreso, despite the fact that it's really an archipelago - there's a lot of shit piled on top of the island-chain-spanning glacier from thousands of years of accumulation. Neither holds a candle to the Antarctic, as everyone knows by now.
posted by Ryvar at 7:03 PM on March 31, 2006

I have a friend who as part of her professional life has cause to associate with some of the most respected scientists in the world wrt climate change. She says that what they say off the record is even worse than the scenarios we usually see conveyed to the general population in the media. Essentially, we are... well, fucked.
posted by jokeefe at 7:07 PM on March 31, 2006

The premise of Harry Harrison’s "Make Room, Make Room," was a dying ocean.

Basically pollution and overpopulation led to massive starvation. People were eventually reduced to eating the one food still available in abundant quantity, Soylent Green. Hence the movie version and the cry, “Soylent Green is People!”

So we elect leaders who don’t read books, and who question even basic science. What’s that say about us?

Maybe we should all just eat Bush.
posted by BillyElmore at 7:08 PM on March 31, 2006

When you only have data that goes back 20 years, I don't put much stock in it.

When we know that the last year is eliminating many hundreds of years of growth, I'm a little confused as to how you can say that.

The net effect is knowledge going back considerably more than 20 years. 800 years of coral dead overnight means: that much coral has not died in at least 800 years.
posted by teece at 8:02 PM on March 31, 2006

Essentially, we are... well, fucked.
posted by jokeefe at 7:07 PM PST on March 31 [!]


After the fucking, then what?
So you can see how electrical current could be used to help the coral. Now all ya need is the Young ammendment defeated so a wind machine in the coral reef could provide the power.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:36 PM on March 31, 2006

rough ashlar we're still fucked
posted by Joeforking at 9:28 PM on March 31, 2006

We are collectively sleepwalking in Old World paradigms (or, "we're all fucked")
posted by stbalbach at 9:32 PM on March 31, 2006

Smackfu and Count Ziggurat: So, if you say that 90% of the corral died in the last few years, because, oh I dont know, they actually measured it, and said it died, how is that not enough data for you? If 90% of the people died in the last few years YOU WOULD PRETTY MUCH KNOW SOMETHING DRASTICALLY WRONG WAS GOING ON.

/ going to bed and hoping this will all go away
posted by crunchywelch at 9:33 PM on March 31, 2006

Surely this will convince humanity to change its wasteful and destructive ways!
posted by keswick at 1:38 AM on April 1, 2006

Smackfu is right; we should probably not change our behavior until we have at least 50 to 100 years of data to show us that something is wrong. Of course, by that time.....

posted by psmealey at 4:21 AM on April 1, 2006

Down under they got off lightly this year - The Great Barrier Reef is far more resilient to rising water temperatures than scientists feared, with less than 1 per cent of its coral affected by bleaching after the hot summer.
Why do I get the feeling these scientific predictions are little more than guesses.
posted by Lanark at 10:26 AM on April 1, 2006


It almost seems inappropriate to say "thanks for reminding me".....

Well, I'm glad you did.

BTW - guess what smallish, malovent 501c(3) was instrumental in scotching likely Bush Adm. action on Global Warming ?

( hint - Matt says I'm not to post such stuff here )
posted by troutfishing at 11:03 AM on April 1, 2006

April Fools! Oh, man, those scientists really had you guys going.
posted by stavrogin at 11:15 AM on April 1, 2006

What is it going to take before folks realize we're in serious trouble?

Lanark, reread that article. Less than 1 percent of the outer reef suffered bleaching, but expressing it as percentage is misleading. The quote is:

"Probably about 1000sqkm of reef has experienced moderate to severe bleaching but, given the size of the Great Barrier Reef, this is quite a minimal impact."

That's on top of the damage suffered in earlier years, in which nearly 10% of the entire reef died and half the coral in the reef bleached. The article takes into account the entire reef, including the already dead part, for that 1 percent of outer reef.

The ocean is slowly dying - we've known this for a long time. Watching apologists and nay-sayers try to spin this news, or stick their heads in the sand and hope we 'adapt', is disturbing to say the least.
posted by FormlessOne at 11:59 AM on April 1, 2006

As George Carlin has stated time and time again, "The earth will be just fine. It's people that are fucked!"

We'll adapt Formless... agricultural collapse in the American midwest and southern Canada will ensure that there simply will not be enough food to keep all 6.5 billion humans nourished.

The poorest nations will suffer the worst fate, and they will be cut loose first. We'll let more than a billion souls starve.

It's a disgusting scenario, we in the United States contribute more than a quarter of all CO2 emissions, and we only stand at 360 million. If we disappeared to the last and were given a few centuries, humanity might be able to find an equilibrium... might.

We in the west will ensure that humanities final days will be dark ones indeed... we will fight over water, we will fight over arable land... and in the end we will fade away.

Fusion, the technology "50 years away" was needed 20 years ago. We missed the jump from fission to fusion. For whatever reason be it cost or preserving profit for a select few. The price will be our very existence.

For the love of God... may I be proven wrong.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2006

PROD_TPSL is on the right track here (as is Carlin). Growing corals myself, and watching them grow at astonishing speeds - often times faster than the garden plants outside, I have very little doubt that the reefs will recover just fine one way or another. Sure, some corals grow exceptionally slow, but others grow so fast that they're worse than weeds.

That's not to say of course that this isn't a horrible tragedy; we are changing the ecosystem in such a way that it will never be the same. 100 years from now the ocean environment will be an entirely different landscape than it is today. Maybe the coast of Virginia will be home to a new reef.

Don't misunderstand me, what is happening is a tragedy, and losing even one species to something that could have and should have been prevented is a result of the shameless selfishness of the human race. It is, however, absurd to think that we're capable of destroying the ocean. We'll kill outselves off long before an permanent damage can be done.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:24 PM on April 1, 2006

We'll kill outselves off long before an permanent damage can be done. - [insert clever name here]

Does coral exist if no one is there to see it?
posted by stbalbach at 7:48 PM on April 1, 2006

If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:12 AM on April 2, 2006

I know this is late, but I happened to be diving on an oil platform out in the Gulf yesterday. It was covered with what appeared to be healthy barnacle and early coral growth. Does anybody here know more?
posted by atchafalaya at 7:56 AM on April 3, 2006

I know this is late, but I happened to be diving on an oil platform out in the Gulf yesterday. It was covered with what appeared to be healthy barnacle and early coral growth. Does anybody here know more?

The same thing has been happening in California. Platforms previously slated to be taken down may be cut down 50' below sea level and left behind to help start more habitat.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:27 PM on April 3, 2006

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