Pacific Ocean Expedition Collects Coral Reef Samples to Explore Climate Change

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In May of last year a major research expedition set out to cross the Pacific Ocean, while collecting coral samples along the way. The intent of the journey was to explore the impact of climate change and warming oceans on the coral reefs that are found scattered about the Pacific to determine their general health. In order to do that, the researchers taking part in the journey would have to sail more than 100,000 km (62,137 miles) to reach all of the places they wanted to study. Now, that expedition has reached its halfway point, and their findings have been troublesome to say the least.

The Tara Pacific Expedition is being conducted by the Tara Expeditions Foundation. The team aboard the ship set sail in May of 2016, heading east to west across the ocean. Their journey has taken them to remote areas in the South Pacific where few humans venture and so far they have collected 15,000 of a planned 35,000 samples. Those materials have now begun to be analyzed, and the results show a major impact on the coral reefs due to warming waters.

According to a press release sent out last week some of the findings so far include:

• In Polynesia, bleaching affects 30 to 50% of coral in some islands of the Tuamotu archipelago.
• At some sites, close to 70% of coral cover is impacted by bleaching. The same observation was made at Pitcairn Islands.
• Wallis and Futuna remain relatively preserved.
• Further north, despite more temperate waters, reefs have not been spared bleaching: for example, 70% are affected in Okinawa, Japan.

In places where there is little to know population, the researchers still found substantial bleaching of the coral reefs, which means that exposure to warmer temperatures is the cause of the problem. With little other outside influences, it seems clear that climate change and global warming are having a dramatic impact on the Pacific Ocean, and the coral that once thrived there. Those reefs play an important role in the ecosystem of the seas, and also serve as barriers to storms and flooding.

The Tara Pacific Expedition isn’t over yet. The ship is currently on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, and from there it will continue on its mission. Before it is through, the crew will sail to New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Palau, China and Taiwan as they continue their survey of the health of the Pacific reefs. They expect to wrap up the journey sometime in 2018, but the results of the research seem clear even at the halfway point of the expedition.

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Kraig Becker