Kenting National Park sees worst coral bleaching in 17 years

Focus Taiwan 28 Jul 16;

Taipei, July 28 (CNA) Coral reefs in waters around southern Taiwan's Kenting area have been hit by the worst bleaching in 17 years, as sea temperatures continue to exceed 30 degrees Celsius, the Kenting National Park Headquarters said Thursday.

"This is the worst bleaching in Kenting since the El Niño event in 1998," said Chen Jung-hsiang (陳榮祥), an official from the headquarters.

Usually, sea temperatures around Kenting reach no more than 29 degrees in the summer, and only portions of the coral reefs suffer bleaching, usually lasting for only around one week, Chen said.

The bleaching recedes once the bottom layer of ocean water with colder temperatures reaches the surface, he explained.

This year, however, ocean temperatures have remained above 30 degrees for a month now, Chen said, adding that some coral has died, because bleaching that lasts over a week can be fatal.

The area hit by bleaching extends from Maobitou in the north of the area, to the west side of South Bay, and around 30 percent to 40 percent of the coral in the area has been affected, Chen said.

"This is a dire situation," he warned.

He said coral near the west side of the South Bay is worst- affected, and the coral species most susceptible to bleaching include acropora and montipora.

Kenting, located in the southernmost county of Pingtung, is a popular tourist destination known for its tropical weather and white sandy beaches.

Tsai Yung-chun (蔡永春), an experienced diver in Kenting, estimated that 60 percent of the coral located within five meters of the surface of the ocean in Kenting, and 20 percent of the coral located five to 10 meters from the surface, have been hit by bleaching.

He said the extent of the bleaching is more severe than in 1998, and even coral species with higher resistance to heat, such as finger coral, have been damaged by bleaching.

The arrival of a typhoon could lower the ocean temperature and improve the situation, Chen said.

Hsu Mao-ching (徐茂敬), chief of the headquarters' conservation research division, said his division will continue to cooperate with a coral bleaching monitoring task force formed by environmentalists and academics to monitor the coral reefs in the Kenting area.

To protect the coral reef ecosystem, he urged the public not to capture or eat coral reef fish, and not to step on coral when swimming in the ocean.

(By Kuo Chih-hsuan and Christie Chen)