Being prepared for any type of major disturbance (e.g., mass bleaching event) is key to being able to respond in a timely manner. The ability to quickly assess damage and make decisions about potential mitigation or restrictions on activities will help to improve long-term survival of the coral communities. Having a plan in place will also help to readily document the event, and better identify sites which are likely to display characteristics of resistance and resilience.
Is it possible to predict a bleaching event?
Scientists have been able to combine information about the increase in sea temperatures – both how much, and how long (degree heating weeks), to predict when bleaching will happen. There have been recent efforts to monitor global trends to better predict bleaching events. Now managers can easily access satellite information that shows where sea surface temperatures are heating up, and can subscribe to NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Satellite Bleaching Alert System, which sends out automatic emails detailing where bleaching is expected. Currently, the alert system is available for a number of coral reef areas around the world. Managers can also access near-real-time information about 24 different reefs around the world through the Coral Bleaching Virtual Stations.
How to prepare for a bleaching event
The following steps can help you prepare for a bleaching event:
- Monitor the SST and Hotspot web pages of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and use its forewarning of possible bleaching to mobilize responses.
- Revise monitoring programs or design new ones to enable recording of the response to bleaching events of as many different coral communities as possible.
- Develop a mobilization protocol for staff and volunteers to monitor the bleaching event.
- Engage stakeholders in planning for the impending bleaching event.
- Engage or notify news organizations, NGOs, schools, and other groups that provide pubic information services.
- Use the media to promote effective conservation policies and practices for these valuable public resources.
What to do during a bleaching event
Monitoring plays an important role in understanding the impact of bleaching on coral reefs, and in applying resilience principles to the design of MPAs. Track the bleaching widely throughout the MPA to identify areas that either do not bleach, or do bleach, but suffer minimal mortality. These are the resistant sites that should be strictly protected. Monitoring can be used to:
- Determine the impact of coral bleaching on local resources by monitoring the extent, severity, and recovery of corals during mass bleaching events.
- Identify areas where corals are resistant or resilient to coral bleaching, so these areas can be protected when designing resilient networks of MPAs.
- Determine the success of management actions intended to build resilience into the design of MPAs.
- Identify the socioeconomic impacts of bleaching.
There are some excellent resources to help develop a bleaching monitoring program. Monitoring Protocols provides some details and links.