Can coral reefs recover from bleaching?

In 2016 ocean warming caused coral bleaching in 90 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef, killing more than 20 per cent of the coral population.

15th March 2017
Can coral reefs recover from bleaching? (Marine biologist monitoring health of coral reefs off Fiji, Pacific Ocean © Getty Images)

Marine biologist monitoring health of coral reefs off Fiji, Pacific Ocean © Getty Images

Asked by: Sally Morrison, Leicester

Coral bleaching occurs when warmer sea temperatures cause coral to expel the tiny algae that live in their tissues. Without these algae, corals are more susceptible to disease, with impaired growth and reproduction rates. If increased temperatures were short-lived, surviving corals can sometimes regrow their algae within a few months.

When bleaching is localised, healthy coral nearby can also help repopulate the area. But in instances of more severe, extensive or repeated bleaching events, or when additional stresses such as pollution or ocean acidification come into play, large swathes of coral may die and recovery can take decades. 

 


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