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Melissa Locker
June 27, 2016

In the wake of a new survey that revealed 93 percent of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has suffered from dramatic bleaching due to rising water temperatures caused by a combination of global warming and a particularly intense El Nino, comes the news that the U.S. coral is next.

NOAA has just released a warning saying that coral bleaching, which drains all of the color out of the vibrant underwater ecosystems, will hit the U.S. soon—and it's going to hit hard. Reefs in the Florida Keys, Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico are all at risk of bleaching. NOAA also reported that the coral embedded in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, located 100 miles off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico, is at risk as well.

"It’s time to shift this conversation to what can be done to conserve these amazing organisms in the face of this unprecedented global bleaching event,” said Jennifer Koss, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program director. “We have boots on the ground and fins in the water to reduce local stressors. Local conservation buys us time, but it isn’t enough. Globally, we need to better understand what actions we all can take to combat the effects of climate change."

While the news of worldwide coral bleaching is dismal, luckily, there’s some hope that coral will survive the bleaching, and eventually resume its striking underwater display if water temperatures drop. According to NOAA, corals are resilient creatures who may be able to recover from the bleaching effect. However, they will have a better chance of returning to brilliant form if the ocean temperatures return to normal relatively quickly and if the impact of humans on the corals is kept to a minimum. Florida’s coral reef, one of the few in the continental United States, is almost gone, buried beneath sediment churned up by the project to expand Miami’s port.

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