Election Section

Scientists find first evidence of coral bleaching in Hawaii

By Janis L. Magin
Saturday October 05, 2002

HONOLULU – Scientists have found the first evidence of coral bleaching in the Hawaiian Islands, providing a worrisome sign of more potential environmental damage from global warming. 

Coral bleaching happens when the algae that populate and build the coral die off. 

The bleaching was discovered around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, 10 mostly uninhabited islets and atolls that extend 1,200 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands. The reefs are some of the most pristine in the world. 

Scientists said that the reefs will probably recover in a few weeks but that the condition should be watched closely. 

“It’s important not to overreact to the evidence of coral bleaching we’ve observed during this trip,” said Greta Aeby, a coral biologist with the state. “In severe cases, coral bleaching can cause mortality, but most mildly bleached colonies will recover in a few weeks.” 

Coral bleaching has increased worldwide over the past several decades, particularly in Florida. Some environmentalists have warned that coral reefs are headed for extinction. 

Short-term bleaching happens in higher water temperatures and often is linked to global warming. Pollution can also cause bleaching. 

Federal officials are working to establish a national marine sanctuary in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which have more than 70 percent of the nation’s coral reefs. They are home to endangered seals and a rich variety of other wildlife.