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Palau researchers co-author publication of new model able to predict coral bleaching

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KOROR (PICRC) — On April 2020, Dr. Peter Houk from the University of Guam Marine Laboratory, along with Dr. Yimnang Golbuu and Dr. Marine Gouezo, from Palau International Coral Reef Center, and with the collaboration of partners from Yap Community Action Program, Conservation Society of Pohnpei, and Florida Institute of Technology, released a publication of a model that is able to predict coral bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish events with several months in advance.

The new model studies the interaction between events, like El Niño Southern Oscillation or ENSO and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or PDO, which had been previously studied independently.

Results show that together, ENSO and PDO promote two things: 1) the increase of sea-surface temperatures which causes corals to bleach, and 2) the increase of chlorophyll — a concentrations, which is associated with an inflation of Acanthaster starfish, a coral predator. By studying varying climate scenarios, and looking into the patterns that have been present over the years, researchers were able to figure out how to forecast coral disturbances several months in advance.

“There are terrific tools that have been helpful in accurately forecasting bleaching events 2-4 weeks in advance,” stated Dr. Houk, “Our product is unique in that it offers predictions three to five months in advance while helping us understand the expected return frequency of events for each island,” he added.

“We are proud to be part of a groundbreaking project that involved the collaboration of partners all over Micronesia,” stated PICRC CEO Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, “by being able to predict coral disturbances months in advance, we can better prepare and take action to protect our coral reefs,” he added.

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