NOAA’s estimate of coral bleaching likely two times too high

coral_cavernosaNOAA sounded the alarm yesterday that coral reefs are dying off at an unprecedented rate, even though a recent paper shows that these statements may be more alarmist than accurate. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said multi-year warm ocean temperatures are creating conditions that are causing corals to die off and turn white (bleached), and they believe that global warming is the culprit. But a new paper, published in Marine Biology in April 2015, shows that even though some corals appear bleached, it doesn’t mean they are dead, as conventional tracking methods can’t distinguish between white and bleached (dead) colonies.

The paper, by Cruz et al, says that “although bleaching leaves the coral skeleton visible under its transparent tissue, not all white coral colonies display this feature,” which “raises the question as to whether all ‘white’-shaded colonies are indeed bleached.” To answer that question of whether bleached coral is actually dead, Cruz et al studied different colored specimens of the coral M. cavernosa sampled off the east coast of Brazil, and found that white corals exhibited the same lifelike features as their multi-colored cousins.

Simply put, white corals were physiologically healthy when compared to dark and light-brown colonies, which would lead to the “potential overestimation of coral bleaching” by nearly twice as much. One reason for this overestimation is that traditional coral monitoring is unable to detect between white and bleached (dead) colonies. Video transects from reef monitoring surveys off the coast of Brazil showed that the “proportion of bleached and white colonies is similar, thus suggesting that current coral reef surveys may be overestimating the bleaching of M. cavernosa by nearly twofold.”

That didn’t stop Mark Eakin, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator, from saying, “The bleaching that started in June 2014 has been really bad for corals in the western Pacific. We are worried that bleaching will spread to the western Atlantic and again into Hawaii.” The announcement from NOAA appears to be part of the Obama administration’s ongoing campaign to attribute global warming to any event as it gathers commitments from other countries ahead of the Paris Climate Talks.

NOAA also added that only warm ocean temperatures can cause the widespread bleaching that monitoring has found since last year, but this new paper also contradicts that statement. Coral bleaching, the paper says, “is a physiological mechanism triggered by environmental stress, such as elevated temperature, changes in salinity, high solar radiation, pollutants or diseases.” They note that “although bleaching leaves the coral skeleton visible under its transparent tissue, not all white coral colonies display this feature.”

Once corals die, they turn “white” and have a bleached appearance. But other studies have shown corals are more resilient then previously estimated. One 13-year study of coral reefs showed “them spontaneously recovering,” refuting the “often doomsday forecasts about the worldwide decline of the colorful marine habitat.” Tom Frazer, professor of aquatic ecology at the University of Florida and part of the research team, told Reuters, “People have said these systems don’t have a chance. What we are saying is: ‘Hey, this is evidence they do have a chance.'”

One study—funded by NOAA—shows that coral reefs could even adapt to warmer ocean temperatures through a variety of processes. Even after the great coral die-off in 1998 from a particular brutal El Niño, most of the coral reefs across the planet rebounded to their original numbers.

This isn’t the first time that NOAA has used dubious data to justify global warming alarmism. In early June, NOAA rewrote the historical climate record by making it “cooler” so the present appears warmer. Even climate scientists who believe that man is primarily responsible for the planet warming less than one degree Celsius over the last 100 years rejected NOAA’s readjustments to hide the 18-year-and-counting global warming hiatus.

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