Thailand’s reefs have become damaged because of bleaching due to warmer sea temperatures. Bleaching is the process that occurs when warm water flows over coral, shocking it and causing it to shed algae. Warmer sea temperatures have been caused by last year’s storm, El Nino, as well as by large amounts of human activity in the water. 18 areas have been closed to the public, which mainly affects divers and snorkelers. The areas have been closed indefinitely, until the coral has recovered more completely.
I would just like to add that this isn’t only a problem in Thailand’s waters but throughout the world. The bleaching of the coral adversely affects all marine life as well. In 1998 16% of the world’s shallow water coral reef expired from bleaching. The heat makes algae’s metabolism hyperactive and the algae gives off toxins which negatively affect the coral. Thailand’s waters have apparently shown mild forms of recovery and the Carribean and Gulf of Mexico show signs of bleaching.
As the two posts above said, bleaching due to warmer oceans is the general cause. This bleaching is a whitening because the warmer temperatures force out the algae living in the coral.
Other factors are tourists walking on coral, the mooring of boats over reefs and contamination of the water in the Andaman Sea.
It is not only the rising ocean temperature, but the dissolved CO2(carbon dioxide) in the ocean that is bleaching the corals. Coral is made up of CaCO (calcium carbonate). Mixing of carbon dioxide gasses from the atmosphere increases the amount of CO2 in seawater. The chemical equation goes like this:
CO2+H2O <—> H2CO3 <—> H+ + HCO3- <—> 2H+ + CO3–
This is a reversable reaction that changes the pH of the seawater. It is driven by the concentration of CO2 in the water. The H+ ions make the ocean water more acidic. This makes it more difficult for Ca(calcium) to be assimilated by the coral into its skeleton. In turn, the microoorganisms that provide nutrients create an acid environment. Though both organisms have coevolved to mitigate the pH changes, the rising concentrations of CO2 are more than the organisms can handle, causing death, which we see as bleaching.
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