Steven Viney
Mon, 20/08/2012

A Hurghada-based environmental association has received warnings of an increased risk of coral bleaching in the Red Sea caused by higher temperatures in August.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals expel an important algae that usually provides up to 90 percent of the coral’s nourishment. The loss of this nourishment results in the corals dying and turning white. Pollution, disease and increased water temperatures can cause corals to stress and bleach.

The satellite temperature reported, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows that reefs in the southern Red Sea near Marsa Alam — particularly around Zabargad and the Rocky Islands — are at the highest alert level. This alert indicates the risk of mass coral bleaching.

But mass coral bleaching does not occur homogeneously, so the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association has called upon all divers, instructors and visitors to quickly report any signs of coral bleaching.

However, little can be done if bleaching is found.

“The only thing you can really do, even after the discovery, is pray that is doesn’t rapidly spread,” says Amr Ali, managing director of HEPCA.

It is widely accepted that global warming is behind the increasing temperatures. This is also not the first time that warnings of coral bleaching have been received — last year, there were also warnings, but no mass bleaching occurred.

Ironically, the region’s year-round warm climate might be the Red Sea’s saving grace.

Scientists believe the region’s warm temperatures might actually build corals’ resilience to the heat. Continuously warm temperatures also lower the chances of heat spikes occurring, which is usually one of the main factors behind mass coral bleaching, as has been witnessed in Australia.

So far the Red Sea has only experienced small incidents of bleaching, not on a mass scale.

But Ali stresses that it is not enough to rely on this knowledge, as bleaching can occur by surprise at any time.

“It is important to now ensure proper management of the reefs through continuous monitoring, particularly in the critical areas, and to make sure that pollution and overfishing remain minimal, which also adds to the heightened risks in the hot summer months,” he says.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent’s weekly print edition.