More than 60% of world’s coral reefs may have bleached in past year, NOAA says

FILE PHOTO: Bleached coral is seen in a reef at the Costa dos Corais in Japaratinga in the state of Alagoas, Brazil April 16, 2024. Brazil is bracing for what may be its worst-ever coral bleaching event as extremely warm waters damage reefs in the country's largest marine reserve, threatening the region's tourism and fishing revenues. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

Nearly two-thirds of the world’s coral reefs have been subjected to heat stress bad enough to trigger bleaching over the past year, the leading agency monitoring coral reefs said on Thursday.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced last month that the world’s coral reefs were in the throes of a fourth mass bleaching event, as climate change combined with an El Nino climate pattern has pushed ocean temperatures to record highs.


Now, the agency reports some 60.5% of the world’s reef area has been affected and that number is still rising.

“I am very worried about the state of the world’s coral reefs,” NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator Derek Manzello said in a monthly briefing. “We are seeing (ocean temperatures) play out right now that are very extreme in nature”.

Triggered by heat stress, coral bleaching occurs when corals expel the colourful algae living in their tissues. Without these helpful algae, the corals become pale and are vulnerable to starvation and disease.

Scientists have documented mass bleaching in at least 62 countries and territories, with India and Sri Lanka recently reporting impacts.

The last global event, which ran from 2014 to 2017, saw 56.1% of reef areas subjected to bleaching-level heat stress. Previous events in 1998 and 2010 hit 20% and 35% of reef area, respectively.

While the current event has affected a greater swath, Manzello said the 2014-17 event is still considered the worst on record.

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