Coral bleaching alert level raised from ‘watch’ to ‘warning’

File photo of a reef affected by coral bleaching. (File Photo/The Guardian)

The coral bleaching alert level in the Maldives has been raised from ‘watch’ to ‘warning’, with the Maldives Marine Research Institute warning it may soon rise further to the highest alert level in the north and southern Maldives.

Coral bleaching is when corals turn white due to various stressors. However, the leading cause of coral bleaching is climate change.

The world is currently experiencing the fourth global coral bleaching event, and the second one within the span of the year.

The MMRI said in a statement that it is now receiving reports of widespread coral bleaching across the Maldives.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which runs a Coral Reef Program, the latest satellite images show the bleaching alert level in the Maldives is now at ‘warning’ level – the third highest warning level – up from ‘watch’ just a month ago.

The MMRI warned that the alert level is expected to rise to ‘alert level 1’ within one week.

“It is also possible that areas in the north and south of Maldives will reach ‘alert level 2’,” warned the institute.

Maldives experienced its first widespread coral bleaching incident in 1998.

According to MMRI, such incidents have increased in frequency.

The institute also warned that human activities may impede coral recovery.

“While Maldives’ corals recover faster after bleaching incidents compared to other countries, the impact of human activities at such a time could slow down recovery and even obstruct it,” warned the institute.

Human activities that may impede coral recovery include dredging, land reclamation and beach nourishment.

“Such activities have a negative impact on coral reef ecosystems, even if it’s is just temporary,” said the MMRI.

“We urge all parties to suspend activities that may raise coral stress level, amid forecasts of coral bleaching incidents due to the warming ocean temperature.”

MMRI also urged all parties to report coral bleach incidents to the institute.