This past year's El Niño is to blame for the death of coral reefs on Christmas Island, says a University of Victoria biologist.
- El Nino is bleaching Christmas Island corals, says UVic scientist
- Global warming, El Nino leave 36 per cent of coral reefs on death watch
- Northern Great Barrier Reef experiences worst coral bleaching on record, researchers warn
"It looked like a ghost town. The structure is still there, all the buildings are still standing but there is no-one home. Meaning all the corals are dead," says Julia Baum.
Baum was part of a team of scientists that recently returned from a month long scuba diving expedition of coral reefs near Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean.
The team found only 5 per cent of the corals were alive after months of intense heat from El Niño.
"The coral has already died, moved past the bleaching phase and is covered by bright algae," she said.
When corals 'bleach' it is a sign they are sick, but if the water temperatures come down quickly, they can regain their colour.
In the case of Christmas Island, the water temperature did not drop quickly enough and essentially the corals starved to death.
Baum says there is no way for coral reefs to come back to life. This then affects the fish population that relies on corals for food and habitat.