Coral bleaching occurs when the coral organisms die. It’s called coral bleaching because the reef turns white. This is often indicative of rising sea temperatures or change in pH. Coral reefs create a unique sea habitat that other animals and plant life depend on for feeding, protection, etc. Once the coral colony dies, the environment of many other species is disrupted as well.
Zooxanthellae, a type of photosynthetic/symbiotic protozoa, gives coral its shades of color. Coral bleaching occurs when the photosynthetic symbionts attatched to the coral are unable to tolerate a rise in sea temperature, and are then expelled by the coral. The coral in turn becomes white—and thus the term “bleaching.”
Keep in mind that coral that has expelled zooxanthellae and become “bleached” is still alive. If favorable conditions return, coral can regain its color and become completely healthy again.
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