S’pore waters see slight coral bleaching amid global event

SINGAPORE – Amid the fourth global coral bleaching event, some corals in the shallow waters and intertidal zones of Singapore are turning pale and white.

About 20 per cent of corals off Kusu Island were showing signs of stress or partial bleaching as at May 17, said Dr Jani Tanzil, facility director of the St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory (SJINML).

This slight bleaching is also seen at the Sisters’ Islands, which are part of Singapore’s only marine park.

The majority of Singapore’s corals are found no deeper than 6m underwater, and this covers the intertidal zones and shallow waters.

The corals in deeper waters – where reef cover and diversity are lower – are faring okay for now, said Dr Karenne Tun, director of the National Parks Board’s (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre.

The agency, alongside marine enthusiasts and divers, has been keeping a closer watch on the health of the reefs amid higher sea-surface temperatures. Efforts include taking note of the level of bleaching while diving.

In recent weeks, sea-surface temperatures here have surpassed 31 deg C, with a peak of 31.7 deg C on May 18, according to SJINML’s Marine Environment Sensing Network. The highest average monthly temperature is 30.5 deg C.

Global coral bleaching also took place in 1998, 2010 and 2016, and Singapore experienced mass coral bleaching in those years.

s’pore waters see slight coral bleaching amid global event

Some corals at Pulau Satumu, where Raffles Lighthouse is located, are showing signs of bleaching and were going pale, on April 29. PHOTO: VINCENT CHOO/FACEBOOK

In 2010 and 2016, the El Nino climate phenomenon – which causes sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific to heat up and elevate global temperatures – was reaching its tail end.

The current El Nino cycle is expected to taper off in the middle of 2024.

But El Nino is likely to still make its presence felt here in the form of higher-than-usual temperatures in the months ahead, as heat takes time to transfer from the sea surface to the atmosphere, weather experts had told The Straits Times previously.

Dr Tanzil said: “We are now entering our seventh week of higher-than-usual temperatures. The next one to two weeks are crucial. If sea-surface temperatures don’t go up further, or, better yet, cool, then we have some hope our corals will be out of danger.”

s’pore waters see slight coral bleaching amid global event

Corals at Pulau Satumu showing signs of bleaching on April 29. PHOTO: VINCENT CHOO/FACEBOOK

Corals get their vibrant colours from microscopic algae that live in their tissues. When they get stressed from rising sea temperatures, the corals will expel the algae and turn ashen white.

Most of Singapore’s intact coral reefs are found in the Southern Islands. Reefs act as the underwater rainforest, sustaining life. They serve as habitat for more than 100 species of reef fish, about 200 species of sea sponges, and rare and endangered seahorses and clams, among other creatures.

s’pore waters see slight coral bleaching amid global event

A hard coral in Pulau Hantu showing signs of bleaching on May 4. PHOTO: JASON TAY/MARINE STEWARDS

In mid-April, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that the world’s fourth global bleaching event was under way.

On May 16, the NOAA warned that the massive coral-bleaching episode is expanding and deepening in reefs around the globe. Amid record ocean temperatures, coral bleaching has been recorded in 62 countries and territories since February 2023.

NParks’ Dr Tun added that from May onwards, bleached – or stressed and diseased – corals are expected to be seen in many areas within the Indo West Pacific and Indian Ocean.

NParks and the National University of Singapore (NUS) started monitoring various reef sites in early May, and will continue to do so until the NOAA declares that the mass bleaching event is over.

NParks has also been monitoring the NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch page, as well as data from the US body’s virtual station for the Singapore Strait.

The statutory board has also reached out to marine enthusiasts who survey intertidal reefs and dive operators to submit reports on the Bleaching Watch Singapore Facebook page to consolidate local observations.

Said Dr Tun: “Such data will help to provide a comprehensive understanding of the situation in Singapore and guide our response plans accordingly.”

Despite the slight decline in reef health, the marine community was relieved to see that the corals did not miss their annual spawning event – the mass release of eggs and sperm into the waters – in end-April.

The synchronous reproduction is influenced by environmental cues such as the lunar cycle and full moon.

One mass spawning event happened on the night of April 29 at Pulau Satumu, where Raffles Lighthouse is located. Once released, the eggs and sperm join in the water, and can grow into new coral once they settle on a hard surface, such as a rock.

In 2017, a year after mass bleaching hit Singapore, the intensity of coral spawning was drastically reduced. Back then, up to 66 per cent of corals in intertidal areas and nearly 60 per cent of corals in subtidal areas and shallow waters had bleached, noted a 2020 paper published in scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Since then, much of the reefs have bounced back – only 10 per cent died. But it can take up to 15 years for full recovery. And being exposed to more marine heatwaves fuelled by climate change would strain the reefs further.

s’pore waters see slight coral bleaching amid global event

These tiny pink orbs attached to this coral in Pulau Satumu, taken on April 29, are bundles of egg and sperm, about to be released into the sea. PHOTO: VINCENT CHOO/FACEBOOK

Research to address the impact of climate change on local marine ecosystems is crucial for mitigation, said NParks.

Under its Marine Climate Change Science research programme, an NUS study is looking to develop climate-resilient corals with the help of microbes that naturally live on the reef builders.

The research findings of such projects could guide measures such as future coral reef restoration, to ensure their success.

Over the next 10 years, starting in 2024, 100,000 corals will be progressively planted and grown in Singapore’s waters to beef up its reef cover.

s’pore waters see slight coral bleaching amid global event

OTHER NEWS

23 minutes ago

Chelsea, many others linked with Vfb Stuttgart striker Serhou Guirassy

23 minutes ago

Arsenal transfer news: Thomas Partey asking price emerges as race for PSG star ramps up

23 minutes ago

Rugby-Injury to keep All Blacks forward Taukei'aho out of Super Rugby final

23 minutes ago

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower still fighting despite Houthi claims

23 minutes ago

Roy Keane warns Liverpool man could be 'ripped to shreds' at Euro 2024

23 minutes ago

Liverpool hoping to take advantage of Pep Lijnders link to secure top young talent

23 minutes ago

Israel-Gaza live updates: IDF to begin daily 'tactical pause' along Gaza aid route

23 minutes ago

Virgin Australia flight makes emergency landing after ‘possible’ bird strike in New Zealand

23 minutes ago

Landmark EU nature restoration plan gets final approval as bloc gives the green light

23 minutes ago

When are the Premier League fixtures announced?

23 minutes ago

I’ve used this Elemis cleansing balm for years – here’s why

23 minutes ago

Wesley Snipes pokes fun at Marvel’s troubled Blade reboot

27 minutes ago

The trial of US reporter Evan Gershkovich charged with espionage in Russia to begin on June 26

29 minutes ago

Nick Kyrgios opens up on horrific moment he woke to his mother's screams after masked gunman stole his luxury car in terrifying attack

29 minutes ago

GMB forced to apologise as Noel Edmonds swears live on air and another guest crashes set

29 minutes ago

What are the health benefits of apple cider vinegar? Nutritionists reveal all

29 minutes ago

Swimmer Matt Richards urges IOC to help with Paris Games tickets after parents scammed

29 minutes ago

Virgin Australia plane from Queenstown, NZ to Melbourne makes emergency landing

29 minutes ago

Darius Rucker hails Beyonce for bringing 'so many eyes to' country music

29 minutes ago

Kmart shoppers go wild over $49 denim trench coat that’s similar to styles costing $250

29 minutes ago

Housing construction falls ‘well below’ government’s targets

29 minutes ago

Mzansi calls for an urgent removal of DA member from Parliament

29 minutes ago

Fact check: Projected result for Lee Anderson comes from ‘user-defined’ data

30 minutes ago

Premier Winde drops Mbombo, Fernandez, Allen from his cabinet

30 minutes ago

Pope faces investigation for 'illegally wiretapping phones' over £300m London property

30 minutes ago

Maresca must axe 20m Chelsea flop after dismal display at Euro 2024

30 minutes ago

Cape Town City have signed Haashim Domingo from Cape Town City for R12.3 million from Raja Casablanca

30 minutes ago

Man Utd boss Ten Hag takes brutal swipe at England boss Southgate after Serbia win

30 minutes ago

Havertz warns Euro 2024 rivals Scotland rout was just the start for Germany

30 minutes ago

Daniel Radcliffe and Erin Darke arrive at 2024 Tony Awards

30 minutes ago

ANC MPs who chose ‘loyalty to power’ on Phala Phala, to be sworn into Parly

30 minutes ago

Here are all the newly-elected provincial Premiers in SA

32 minutes ago

Andy Murray drops major retirement hint ahead of Wimbledon and Olympics

35 minutes ago

A retired federal judge says Judge Cannon appears to show 'favoritism' toward Trump

35 minutes ago

Half of the U.S. military bases nationwide are in 'health care deserts'

35 minutes ago

5 takeaways from the 2024 Tony Awards

37 minutes ago

Man Utd see cheeky ‘opening offer’ for Barcelona star fall short as Ratcliffe learns Deco fee to sell

37 minutes ago

Fresh shark sightings spark MORE Spanish beach closures

37 minutes ago

Trailer for the star-studded X-Men sequel X2 from 2003

37 minutes ago

Anger in Wexford as All-Ireland quarter-finals fixture request fails – ‘Hurling is being marginalised’