By Jeremy Hance
24 January 2013 (mongabay.com) – When Typhoon Bopha, also known as Pablo, ran ashore on Mindanao, it was the largest tropical storm ever to hit the Philippine island. In its wake, the massive superstorm left over 1,000 people dead and 6.2 million affected, with officials saying illegal logging and mining worsened the scale of the disaster. However, the Category 5 typhoon also left a trail of destruction that has been less reported: coral reefs.
"At our sites coral species exposed to the typhoon have been destroyed, broken, and displaced," Pierre Fidenci, the head of Endangered Species International (ESI) told mongabay.com. "Some young massive species have been turned down and displaced by the intense underwater movement. It is incredible to see the damages, we often look at land damages, but underwater ones are massive. We have found that young corals, especially the one recovering from past human impacts (fishing and sedimentation) have been completed wiped out after the typhoon."
The ESI has found that 80 percent of coral cover has been lost as two of the sites they monitor—out of five across the Coral Triangle. Fidenci notes that delicate coral, such as those in the Acropora and Millepora genus, were most particularly impacted, while stony coral, like Porites, fared better.
"The waves generated by typhoons are so large and powerful [they can change] coral reef ecology and morphology. Injuries to corals include breaking coral branches, overturning colonies, and more dramatic, destroying coral," he says.
Scientists say that while climate change may not be increasing the total number of tropical storms, it is likely spawning more severe hurricanes and typhoons. Already climate change is seen as a existential threat to coral reefs due to ocean acidification and rapidly rising marine temperatures. But the potential impact of superstorms on reefs has not been widely reported.
Given the number of threats to coral reefs—including overfishing, disease, pollution—Fidenci fully expects a number of coral species to fall into extinction this century.
"If we had only hurricanes or typhoons to deal with, then that would be OK, but there are a myriad of human induced impacts beyond global warming that we have to address very seriously and quickly if we want to have coral reefs around." [more]