Coral Bleachings Devastate Bali Reefs as Sea Temperatures Rise

REUTERS/Yuddy Cahya Budiman
Fish swim near recovering coral reefs after bleaching in late December 2023 due to extreme weather, in Bondalem village, Buleleng regency, Bali, Indonesia, June 20, 2024.

BONDALEM, Indonesia, July 5 (Reuters) – Indonesian conservationist Nyoman Sugiarto has been working for 16 years to preserve coral on the reefs of Bali, but the frequency of mass coral bleachings he says is now devastating.

Ninety percent of the corals Sugiarto had nurtured on the reefs near his village in Bondalem, in northern shore of Bali, lost their color last December.

“It was all white. We were shocked and of course, it also negatively affected the coral we planted. It’s not just the natural ones,” 51-year-old Sugiarto told Reuters.

When Sugiarto began coral conservation projects in 2008 he was told that coral could retain the living algae which gives it color for 10 to 20 years.

Yet, the coral reefs off Bondalem were bleached in less than 10 years, he says, blaming warmer sea temperatures triggered by climate change.

Coral bleaching occurs when coral expels the colorful algae living in its tissues. Without the algae the coral becomes pale and vulnerable to starvation, disease or death.

In April, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said more than 54% of the reef areas in the world’s oceans are experiencing bleaching-level heat stress, the fourth global bleaching event in the last three decades.

Indonesia has roughly 5.1 million hectares of coral reefs and accounts for 18% of the world’s total, data from the country’s tourism ministry showed.

Coral bleaching in Bali in late 2023 was mainly caused by rising sea temperatures caused by the El Nino phenomenon that hit Indonesia, said Marthen Welly, a marine conservation adviser at the Coral Triangle Center.

Indonesia experienced the most severe dry season last year since 2019 due to the El Nino.

While Indonesia’s corals are more resilient and tend to recover faster, Marthen said it will not be enough to withstand the rising ocean temperature.

“It’s predicted that the coral bleaching will occur more often, between one or two years with the current temperature,” he said, quoting the latest research by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

However, Sugiarto says he is determined to continue his campaign to conserve corals, and is advocating coral conservation to younger Indonesians and seeking funds to establish a village community to monitor illegal fishing.

“We feel that we have the obligation to guard the sustainability of underwater life especially corals,” he said.