Unfortunately, the Blob no longer refers to a creature from a 1958 science fiction movie. It is the name scientists use to denote the large area of bleaching and death of coral reefs in the eastern Pacific that is caused by global warming. That area is so unusually warm — an excess 4° F — that tropical skipjack tuna have been seen off Alaska. But the problem is much more vast – it is worldwide. Of the 502 reefs that make up the northern Great Barrier Reef only four of them were found without any bleaching. Up to one third of the earth’s coral reefs are in danger and 16% of them are already dead. 2015 was the warmest year ever recorded on the planet and 2014 was the second warmest. That and the arrival of the biggest El Niño under-water heating event in history combined to severely injure the tiny, delicate creatures called polyps that aggregate in huge numbers to form a living coral reef. The excess heat speeds up their metabolism, bleaching them, creating toxins and making them vulnerable to disease. If a cooling event does not allow them to recover, death will often ensue.
Coral reefs are vital to the earth’s ecosystem because they supply food and provide protection to an astonishing one-quarter of all ocean marine species. As many as 30 million people, especially those living in the Philippines and Indonesia, rely on these fish for sustenance and income. No computer models are available yet to predict what will happen if the reefs are destroyed, but their loss would certainly be catastrophic for the planet and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, this not science fiction.