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  When the Red Sea coral began to die, scientists looked for possible reasons—volcanic dust's smothering the coral, presence of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), disease, or some combination of causes. When scientists measured water temperatures, though, they found cold water mixed very thoroughly to great depths. (Cold water is usually found very deep with warmer water near the surface.) Here's what had happened: The unusually cold surface water had sunk, helping to mix the water column. This helped to also mix nutrients (like phosphorous) that normally stay deep in the cold water to near the water's surface. This resulted in the growth of thick, red algal blooms. They are thought to have smothered the coral, blocking out the sunlight. When temperatures returned to normal, the algal blooms died because they no longer had the nutrients they needed. The reefs were soon healthy again.

  The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines was the second biggest volcanic eruption of the 20th century and was 10 times bigger than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington in 1980. The volcanic residue from the explosion caused coral to die in the Red Sea. When drought occurs in West Africa, some Caribbean coral dies. West African dust, which is thickest during drought years, is transported by winds to the Caribbean. This dust carries the fungus aspergillus, which thrives on sea fans, a type of coral. Thick dust can also block out the sun's rays, resulting in reduced photosynthesis.
 

  While warmer water due to the El Nino weather pattern also plays a role in the death of coral, drought in Africa has coincided with die-offs of coral. In addition, dust can also carry iron and other nutrients that trigger the growth of phytoplankton and algae that could also damage coral, the researchers said.

"This combination of atmospheric nutrient enrichment along with an intermittent supply of fungal spores and possibly bacterial cysts, especially when combined with warm El Nino conditions, suggest a strong potential for environmental perturbation."

  The coral reefs in the Eastern African region are increasingly threatened by a number of factors, including destructive fishing methods, sewage and industrial waste. These factors, together with the coral bleaching event of 1998, have put coral reefs in the region at significant risk. The coastal population, which is growing at a rate of 5 percent annually, exerts heavy pressure on coastal and marine habitats and resources. The capacity to manage the coastal and marine environment has been unable to keep up with the increasing pressure of rapid urbanization, human-induced stresses and the prevailing poverty and high demand for subsistence resource use.


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