Quirks & Quarks

Coral Catastrophe on Christmas Island Reefs

Christmas Island in the Pacific is a coral atoll surrounded by a substantial reef, which has been devastated by a strong El Niño

80% of the coral around the world's largest coral atoll is dead

Sediment and algae are starting to accumulate on this dying coral (Kristina Tietjen, UVic)
Christmas Island is part of the tiny island nation of Kiribati, which is over 2100 kilometres south of Hawaii in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and is home to the world's largest coral atoll. In just the past 10 months, the reef there has gone from being a vibrant, colourful wonder of nature, to something akin to a ghost town.

Dr. Julia Baum, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, studied the Christmas Island coral just last month and was shocked to see that 80 percent was dead, another 15 percent was bleached but still alive, and only 5 percent is still healthy.

The past year's unusually severe El Niño event - which has raised the water temperature around the island an average of 2° C - is to blame. It is estimated that El Niño has left more than one-third of reefs around the world on death watch. 

Related Links

University of Victoria release
CBC News story
- Science news story
- Washington Post story
- New York Times story