Temperatures in the Caribbean Sea have reached their annual high two months ahead of schedule, scientists reported. This could be an ominous sign that coral reefs may suffer the same widespread damage as last year, when up to 40 percent of coral died in abnormally warm seas around the U.S. Virgin Islands.
High water temperatures stress coral, which makes the already fragile undersea life even more susceptible to disease and death. NOAA has alerted scuba-diving operators and underwater researchers to be especially careful around the reefs. The warning is in effect until the waters cool off, which is not likely for at least a few more months.
Scientists haven’t pinpointed the exact cause of the phenomenon-but speculate that global warming may be the culprit.