Marine researchers in the United States warned that the coral bleaching event that has beset the oceans of the world for the past couple of years is likely to continue all through 2016 and possibly even into the following year.

Members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch agency revealed on Monday that based on computer model forecasts, the current bleaching event is showing no signs of stopping any time soon.

Among those expected to heavily hit by the bleaching are waters around Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Florida Keys near the Atlantic and Hawaii, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific.

According to Coral Reef Watch, there is also a 90 percent chance that the coral bleaching could also become widespread in other Pacific islands, such as the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, as a result of a probable La Niña occurrence in the Pacific Ocean.

Despite being associated more with bringing cooler temperatures than normal to the Pacific Ocean, La Niña is also known to cause a warming of ocean waters, an effect that tends to persist in the western portion of the Pacific.

Before the start of the ongoing global coral bleaching event, researchers have identified two similar episodes that were linked to the occurrence of an El Niño event.

What makes the current bleaching event different is that it seemingly began even before the start of an El Niño, and continues to occur even after the event had long been over. Experts believe this could be a result of man-made global warming, which continues to increase the temperatures of oceans and the likelihood of such coral bleaching events.

Coral Reef Watch coordinator Mark Eakin said all U.S. coral reefs located along the northern hemisphere are likely to be hit by widespread coral bleaching this year. If it does occur in Hawaii and Florida, it would mark the third straight year that the United States had been hit by the marine event.

Recurrent coral bleaching episodes could eventually end up killing off delicate marine ecosystems in affected areas.

A bleaching event occurs when corals are subjected to various environmental stresses, such as increase pollution levels and water temperatures. This forces the marine invertebrates to expel the algae that typically live in their tissue, which are responsible for giving them their nutrients and even their vibrant colors.

Once the algae have been ejected from the coral, they become even more vulnerable to pollution, disease and heat stress.

Coral reefs can still recover from a bleaching event, provided that they are no longer exposed to environmental stresses, and as recent studies have shown, some species of the invertebrates are proving to be more resistant to such events than others.

Photo: Derek Keats | Flickr 

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