With warmer sea temperatures in the coming months, Bonaire’s corals needs some special help from divers.
The third-ever global coral bleaching event.
The good news out of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is that there are indications that the third-ever global coral bleaching, which began in 2015 in all three ocean basins–Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian–is likely slowing or no longer occurring. This is very good news for all divers, as some reefs have been particularly effected by this long ocean-warming-coral-bleaching event.
Scientists will closely monitor sea surface temperatures and bleaching over the next six months to confirm the event’s end. NOAA declared the beginning of the third-ever global coral bleaching event in 2015. Since then, all tropical coral reefs around the world have seen above-normal temperatures, and more than 70 percent experienced prolonged high temperatures that can cause bleaching. U.S. coral reefs were hit hardest, with two years of severe bleaching in Florida and Hawaii, three in the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands, and four in Guam.
“This global coral bleaching event has been the most widespread, longest and perhaps the most damaging on record,” said C. Mark Eakin, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Coordinator. “NOAA is working with scientists, resource managers and communities around the world to determine what the true impacts of this event will be on coral reefs.”
Another great source of information about coral bleaching is the newly released Chasing Corals, available on Netflix.
Warmer sea temperatures on Bonaire are coming in the next months.
We here on Bonaire have been particularly lucky during this global event, with only minimal bleaching on an interim basis, and many corals recovering. But while indications show that the global event is lessening, Bonaire is going into its hottest months of the year, and this is a time when corals can become stressed.
When corals become stressed for any reason, high temperatures of seawater being a prime factor, the corals expel the symbiotic zooxanthellae, single-celled dinoflagellates, that live within them. These little microscopic bits of algae actually provide the color to the corals, but when they are expelled due to the coral’s stress, the coral becomes white, or “bleached.”
On August 21st, 2017, NOAA upgraded the status of Bonaire’s reefs from “Watch” to “Warning” which means that thermal stress is accumulating. There are two more dire statuses: Alert Level 1 (bleaching is expected) and Alert Level 2 (significant bleaching expected; mortality likely).
Four tactics for divers to help Bonaire’s corals get through the season of warm sea temperatures.
Divers can assist by employing the following best practices to keep contact with the corals at a minimum.
1. Employ proper buoyancy.
It’s critical now in the coming months that incidental touches to coral be minimized. Err on the side of caution and put a larger buffer between you and the reef. Breathe regularly to avoid an “up and down” motion that could occur from particularly deep breaths. Divers always need to maintain proper buoyancy, and don’t be bashful about asking for help and tips from your dive guides.
2. Employ proper weighting.
If you are under-weighted, you will be struggling your entire dive. If you are over-weighted, you will sink to the bottom substrate and be kicking around in the corals. Divers need to be optimally weighted to enjoy their dives to the maximum. Again, check with your dive facility for tips; all those who work in Bonaire’s dive industry want to help you get properly weighted!
3. Keep a mental image of your fin tips.
Don’t get so enthralled with what is in front of your eyes, that you forget about what your fin tips are doing! Don’t be the diver in this image, with his fins in the sand. Here on Bonaire, there are many organisms that live in the sand as well as on the coral reefs, so keep their well being in mind, and have a mental image of where your entire body is–including all gear–in relation to the reef and/or bottom.
4. If shooting with a camera, add in a buffer zone and use your zoom.
Sometimes underwater photographers get a bad rap, but many times it is deserved! If you are shooting either still images or video on your dives, be sure to keep a little larger buffer zone between you and the reefs in the coming months, and use your camera’s zoom capabilities.
Recent research on Bonaire has indicated that Bonaire might just have one of the world’s most resilient reefs, as recovery from stressful events has far out-paced mortality, when compared with other reef ecosystems. Let’s help our reefs stay resilient in the coming months as they endure warmer sea temperatures.
Susan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a PADI Master Instructor, and an underwater and topside photographer. She also enjoys writing for The Bonaire Insider tourism news blog.