At least 31 percent of the coral reefs in waters around Taiwan are dying as a result of bleaching, which is now the worst in its recorded history, researchers from Academia Sinica and the Taiwan Coral Bleaching Observation Network (TCBON) said yesterday, echoing warnings first delivered in September.
The network said that 52 percent of the coral in the nation’s waters is under different levels of heat stress, while 31 percent is in an irreversible process of dying due to high water temperatures.
The coral reefs would not recover, even if the water temperatures fall, said Kuo Chao-yang (郭兆揚), a postdoctoral research associate at Academia Sinica’s Biodiversity Research Center and a TCBON member.
The coral bleaching, the worst since the government began keeping such records in the 1980s, was a result of global warming and a low incidence of typhoons in the country last summer, he said.
Average sea temperatures around the nation last year rose to the highest in two decades, Kuo said, citing an average 30.5°C in waters off the north coast last summer, about 1°C above normal.
The optimal water temperature for coral growth is 18°C to 29°C, and in unfavorable conditions, most corals expel their symbiotic algae, causing bleaching or even death, Kuo said.
The areas around Taiwan where the worst bleaching occurred last year were Liouciou Island (琉球), Kenting, the northeast coast, Penghu and Green Island (綠島), he said.
Mingo Lee (李世明), a diver who helps document the condition of Taiwan’s coral, said the underwater temperature near uninhabited Siji Island (西吉) in Penghu County was about 34°C when he dove there last year.
“It was white everywhere, like snow,” he said, describing the coral. “I had never seen anything like that in my 20 years as a diver.”
The massive coral bleaching in Taiwan is worrisome because it threatens biodiversity, said Allen Chen (陳昭倫), an Academia Sinica researcher and one of the founders of TCBON.
Chen said a more aggressive approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is needed.
If carbon emissions could be halved by 2030 to 2016’s level, carbon neutrality might be achieved by 2050, he said.
As a result, global warming would be limited to 1.5°C, which would save 30 percent of coral reefs worldwide, he said.
Greenpeace Taiwan has said that coral reef communities around Taiwan make up less than one-1,000th of the world’s in terms of scale, but they account for one-third of the various species globally.
Of the 700 species of stony corals worldwide, 250 can be found along the coast of Taiwan, it said.
Greenpeace Taiwan on Sept. 10 last year said that the coral bleaching in the waters off Kenting was the worst it had seen since 1998, while on Oct. 8, Biodiversity Research Center researchers told a Taipei news conference that last year saw the most severe and extensive coral bleaching since Academia Sinica began monitoring the nation’s near-coast reefs in 2012.
Greenpeace Taiwan representatives told the news conference that local governments should declare a “climate emergency” to help save the nation’s coral reefs.
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