Caribbean coral reefs hammered by bleaching, disease

It hasn’t been a good year for coral. Last summer, reefs from Panama to the Virgin Islands suffered bleaching; now coral in the Caribbean, some of it centuries old, is being attacked by deadly diseases. The whole grim sequence can be traced back to unusually high Caribbean ocean temperatures last summer, which caused the coral to freak out and expel the algae that give them their bright colors, leaving them white, weak, and susceptible to disease. Mortality rates for coral in the British Virgin Islands are 20 to 25 percent already, and it’s likely the water will only get warmer as summer approaches. Coral catastrophe could spell bad news for biodiversity, ecosystem health, and — horrors! — the Caribbean tourism industry. “If we don’t control atmospheric CO2, we’re putting the nail in the coffin right now,” says marine pathologist James Cervino. “You’re going to see isolated patches of sick, sorry corals, trying to hang on.”