The waters around Taiwan are home to a wonderful variety of corals, with amazing diversity within the ecosystem. According to Greenpeace, the Taiwanese reefs hold a third of coral reef species. There are 700 different types of stony coral that can be found in the oceans, and 250 species can be found in the waters around Taiwan.  

However, 2020 was a year of mass bleaching in the area and the coral can not recover. This threatens so many species of corals and the marine life that rely on these reefs for a home. 

According to the Taiwan News, the Taiwan Coral Bleaching Observation Network held a press conference on the 12th of January 2021 where they discussed the state of the coral reefs in the Taiwan waters. They announced that 31% of the coral reefs have died from bleaching over the course of 2020. The largest coral island in Taiwanese waters is Xiao Liuqiu and horrifically, over half of the corals of the island were lost in 2020. 

One of the researchers from the Taiwan Coral Bleaching Observation Network is Kuo Chao-yang. During the press conference, he announced that these deaths are irreversible. The coral reefs that suffered will not recover, even if the waters cool down. 

What Caused the Coral Bleaching?

Coral bleaching can be caused by a number of threats. Pollution and changes in the environment stress out the coral and this makes them expel the zooxanthellae from their tissue. 

Heat stress is one of the main causes of coral bleaching. Corals are sensitive to temperature change, and therefore will suffer from bleaching when the waters around them get warmer. According to the National Ocean Service, corals thrive in temperatures between 23℃ to 29℃. However, during 2020, the waters around Taiwan were warmer than usual. According to the Taiwan News, during the summer of 2020, the waters were as hot as 31℃. 

The rising temperatures of the oceans is directly linked to human behavior. Greenhouse gasses are absorbed by the ocean and this causes the water to get warmer. According to a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, since the 1970s, 93% of all excess heat from greenhouse gasses has been absorbed by the oceans. This means that marine life is suffering the most because of pollution and climate change. 

There were no typhoons in Taiwan last year, and this also had an impact on the temperature of the water. According to the Taiwan News, typhoons have a cooling effect on coral reefs. Because there were none in 2020, the corals were left to deal with the intense heat of the oceans. Unfortunately, many of them did not survive. 

Why Won’t the Coral Reefs Recover?

When corals bleach, they can sometimes survive. Bleaching means that the zooxanthellae have been expelled, but the corals are still alive. However, as corals rely on their symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae to thrive, not having them makes the corals extremely susceptible to disease and death. 

When coral bleaching happens on a huge scale, the coral colonies can not recover quickly enough. According to the Atlantic, it takes corals around ten years to recover from bleaching. However, the coral reefs around the world are being bleached so regularly that they just do not have the time to recover. 

Because of the scale of the bleaching of the coral reefs in Taiwan, there is little hope that they will recover. The bleaching has been so massive that they just cannot be saved. It is highly likely that the summer of 2021 will also see higher temperature levels in the waters around Taiwan, and therefore the coral reefs will bleach more. It will not be long until all the coral reefs in the Taiwanese waters are dead. 

Is There Any Hope for the Coral Reefs of Taiwan?

Unfortunately, it is not looking good. The scale of this bleaching is truly horrific and many experts can not see a way to solve these issues. It seems like a case of too little, too late. 

However, we believe that there is always hope. There may be ways in which we can save the coral reefs of Taiwan. According to Greenpeace, the new report on coral bleaching may push policymakers in Taiwan to replace fossil fuels with sustainable energy in a bid to slow down global warming. However, this will not change quickly and by the time the world is seeing the changes, Taiwan’s coral reefs will be long gone. 

Perhaps now is the time to harvest some of the corals of the reefs for coral gardening in labs. This is where the corals are fragmented and grown in a protected place. They are then replanted in the coral reefs where bleaching occurs in the hope that they will bring life back into the reefs. According to Sciencing, coral gardening is having an impact on reefs around the world, from Florida to the Great Barrier Reef. Perhaps this is something that would help the coral reefs of Taiwan. 

There are other ways of protecting the corals in the oceans, too, and maybe we can manually cool down the waters in order to save the reefs in Taiwan. The cooling and shading program by the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program looks at different ways in which we can cool down or shade coral reefs

It is truly amazing how scientists and conservationists are developing these wonderful and diverse ideas and programs in order to protect coral reefs. Whether it be coral gardening, super corals, or cooling and shading, this is research that is happening now. Change always happens within science, and there still is hope for the coral reefs of Taiwan. 

Knowing the extent of the coral bleaching in the waters will hopefully now push scientists and policymakers to focus on saving the reefs. Perhaps more money will be put into the research and therefore allow brilliant minds to focus on working out the best solution to the issues of the coral reefs of Taiwan.