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Indian Ocean Reefs in the Maldives become latest victim to coral bleaching

New underwater photographs of the devastating effects of coral bleaching in the Maldives have recently been released. Using 360-degree photographic technology, the pictures were taken by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey as part of a study that started in 2014, and the results show that the reefs are in the early stages of bleaching, but the full extent of the damage is not yet known.

Indian Ocean Reefs in the Maldives become latest victim to coral bleaching

As concerns over climate change grow, the Maldives looks to be the latest victim, after new photographs reveal that coral bleaching is affecting the reefs in the Indian Ocean. The images were released following a survey that has been monitoring the bleaching event since 2014.

The XL Catlin Seaview Survey, a joint project between the University of Queensland, The Ocean Agency, Google, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, took the photographs using 360-degree photographic technology. The results indicated that coral bleaching is present in the reefs in the Maldives, but the full extent of any damage is not yet known.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, declared:

"Those pictures are beautiful, but they're quite shocking. A lot of people will be swimming around on these reefs, not really being aware that what they're looking at are corals that are in the first stages of dying."

Last week, a new survey revealed that coral bleaching has killed 35 per cent of coral in the central and northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Coral bleaching has already affected numerous reefs in the Pacific region, and it is predicted that the Coral Triangle, Japan and the Caribbean could be next.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said that recent coral bleaching is similar to a mass bleaching event in 1998 that occurred at the same time as an El Nino cycle. This has allowed scientists to predict where the bleaching will happen in other destinations using sea temperatures as a guide.

Mr Hoegh-Guldberg, also the chief scientist for The Ocean Agency, explained:

"In many ways, we know what's going to happen next, so rolling out of Australia, we expected the Maldives to go sort of in the May timeframe.”

The most likely destinations to be affected next will be Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The professor added that in the height of the northern hemisphere summer, the bleaching could affect Caribbean reefs.

The XL Catlin Seaview Survey is working with the Maldivian government to secure funding for the next trip. They have already assessed the reefs across the atoll system in the Maldives, and are now looking to revisit the sites in six months to assess any damage and gain further results.

Coral bleaching is also affecting many marine parks across Thailand, and more than ten scuba diving sites have been closed in the country due to help the fragile reef systems restore themselves. Between 40 and 80 per cent of the reefs on the east and west coasts of Thailand have been affected.

Coral bleaching usually occurs when sea temperatures rise or there is pollution in the water. Stressed coral forces out the colourful nourishing algae which lives inside, and this causes it to lose its colour. It then becomes vulnerable to damage and if the coral is unable to regain its algae, it will starve and die. Swimmers, divers and snorkelers can help reduce the effects of coral bleaching by wearing eco-friendly sun cream, never touching the fragile plants, and taking excursions and tours with reputable companies that set limits on boat trips to sites to avoid overcrowding, littering, and fuel pollution.

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