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Guam's coral reefs threatened by bleaching

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As the world comes off the tail-end of the third coral bleaching event, Guam's reefs are facing another warning just as other parts of the world show signs of recovery.  "This is a major threat, and it's Guam, it's coral reefs everywhere that are facing coral bleaching, they're facing ocean acidification because of global climate change," explained National Coral Reef Management Fellow Whitney Hoot said the problem first started back in 2013.

"So we bleached in 2013, 2014 pretty severely."

About 85% of the island's corals bleached in 2013, and by the next year roughly half of the island's branching staghorn corals died because of bleaching. Another bleaching event happened in 2016, and now, Hoot said, "We are in a coral bleaching warning and within one to four weeks we're expected to reach coral bleaching alert level one and that comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - their Coral Reef Watch Program and at Alert Level 1, coral bleaching is likely."

The end result could mean a loss of not only corals but fish that rely on these reefs to survive. "When the corals die they very quickly break down you kind of lose that structure, and you have a lot of biodiversity loss with fish and corals and other species that depend on reefs," added Hoot.

Hoot said with a shortage of scientists on island, NOAA relies on members of the community to help identify when these bleaching events begin. The Eyes of the Reef Marianas started back in 2015, and so far over 150 residents have been trained on how to spot and report coral issues to NOAA.

"And that's kind of our early warning system," said Hoot.

Scientists then try to assess how the damage can be mitigated. The next training session takes place at the Piti Church Social Hall on June 28th at 6PM.

Meanwhile those interested in becoming National Coral Reef Management Fellows can now apply for the two year placement online.

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