The news that rising sea temperatures are killing Guam’s coral reefs at an alarming rate should spur all of us to action.

Guam depends on its coral reefs for coastal protection, fishing and tourism, so we must do all that we can to save what remains.

A new study reported that bleaching events killed more than one-third of all coral reefs on Guam and up to 60% along its eastern coast from 2013 to 2017, according to a news release from the University of Guam. The findings of this study were published in the journal “Coral Reefs.”

Lead author Laurie Raymundo, a professor of coral ecology at UOG, was joined by two of the scientific article’s co-authors, David Burdick and Whitney Hoot, in presenting the findings at a news conference July 29.

Coral bleaching can occur when water is too warm, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Bleaching happens when corals expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the corals to turn completely white.

When corals bleach, they are not dead, according to NOAA. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are less likely to heal.

It’s important for our island community to come together to help the coral reefs heal.

“We need to protect what remains and rehabilitate where we can using whatever means we can because they are essential to the island, both ecologically and economically,” Raymundo said.

Guam can look to what other communities are doing to save their reefs, from raising awareness to replanting corals. In 2017, Palau became the first nation to issue visas to visitors only if they sign a pledge to protect the environment. The Palau Pledge requires all visitors to sign an agreement not to damage or exploit natural resources. In 2021, Hawaii will implement its ban on the sale of sunscreens with chemicals that harm reefs.

While island leaders should consider these examples, individuals can take steps to mitigate damage to the environment.

Walking more, eating less meat, limiting single-use plastic and eating locally are ways to help reduce the island's carbon footprint, said Hoot, a coral reef resilience coordinator/biologist.

By making changes at the individual and policy levels, we can help turn the tide against coral bleaching.

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