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Warning of coral reef die-offs, as marine heat levels persist

May 09, Colombo (LNW): Coral reefs in the waters surrounding Sri Lanka face the risk of mass die-offs if the current elevated marine heat levels persist for another month or longer, a leading scientist cautioned.

Alarming instances of severe coral bleaching have been documented in the Lakshadweep Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, according to reports from Indian media outlets,

Dr. K. Arulananthan, the newly appointed Director General of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), commented on the situation, stressing that the marine heat levels had risen to 31 degrees Celsius and remained at this level for a consecutive two-week period.

While NARA has not conducted specific assessments on the condition of coral reefs in Sri Lankan waters, Dr. Arulananthan highlighted the possibility of the occurrence of bleaching due to the sustained high temperatures.

Coral health typically thrives when water temperatures fluctuate between 27 to 28 degrees Celsius, he explained, adding that however, prolonged exposure to the current elevated temperatures could lead to significant coral mortality within the next month.

Marine heat waves, rare but severe weather phenomena characterised by prolonged periods of abnormally high ocean temperatures, pose a serious threat to coral reef ecosystems.

Coral bleaching, a consequence of increased water temperatures, occurs when corals expel the symbiotic algae living within their tissues, resulting in the loss of color and vital nutrients.

The intricate relationship between corals and algae, essential for the corals’ survival, is disrupted during bleaching events, ultimately weakening the health and resilience of coral reef ecosystems.

As such, urgent measures are needed to mitigate the impact of rising marine heat levels and safeguard the future of coral reefs in Sri Lanka’s waters.

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