Note on 2019 Coral Bleaching in the South Pacific

I’m getting some reports of 2019 Coral Bleaching from some parts of Fiji and thought I’d put a few simple facts out there.

Hope this helps a little! Helen

1. Bleaching happens every year, somewhere in Fiji, when the water temperature goes over 29oC. It’s usually shallow (above 3 m) and short (lasting less than 4 weeks)..

2. Bleached corals are NOT necessarily dead and mostly recover when the water temperature drops below 29oC. Coral death happens when water temperature stays over 29oC for more than 4 -6 consecutive weeks. That’s an exceptional year.

Note on 2019 Coral Bleaching in the South Pacific

3 . Water temperature generally starts to drop in mid to late April. Here’s a graph of average water temps in the Vatu-i- Ra passage from 1998 to date to prove it:

4: This year’s water temperature in the Vatu-i-Ra Passage rose to bleaching levels in the first week of February 2019.

5. This year, bleaching has been reported from shallow reef tops in Lautoka, Vatu-i-Ra and Taveuni. Reefs below 5m do not seem to be affected in Vatu-i-Ra, Namena, Gau, Wakaya, Taveuni.

6. There may be coral death in the shallows this year, as there was in the El Nino of 2014 – 2016, but this is NOT looking like the mass bleaching of 2000 – 2002 when we lost hard corals at all depths. This looks like it will be a localised, shallow bleaching. If this is another El Nino, it might happen again over the next 1 or 2 years as well.

7. ALL FIJI’S CORALS ARE SUPERCORALS! Any coral that survives years like these is adapting to temp rise. Leave them alone and let them repopulate the reef naturally.

8. DO NOT START CORAL PLANTING WHILE BLEACHING IS ON-GOING.
Breaking up or moving corals in a time of stress will kill them! Moving coral to places where the last corals died will kill them if the beaching happens again next year. Leave healthy corals where they are – it’s obviously the right place for them.

9. You can help by letting me know the following, now:

  • Where are you seeing the bleaching? (area of Fiji)
  • How deep are you seeing bleached corals? (less than 5m, 5 – 20m, below 20m)
  • How bleached are corals? (Fully, all white; Partially, patchy/ brightly coloured)
  • What kinds of corals are mostly affected ? (Tables, Branching, Boulders, Soft etc)

Send a few representative photos if you can to me please 🙂

10.Choose optimism and DONT PANIC!!! There is nothing you can do at this point, but we know from over 20 years of research that our reefs can recover in 3-5 years from crisis events. See the “Baby Corals” article here.

2019 Coral Bleaching, not unusual in summer

Bleaching happens every year, somewhere in Fiji, when the water temperature goes over 29oC. It’s usually shallow (above 3 m) and short (lasting less than 4 weeks).

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