GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Have you ever heard of coral bleaching? Coral reef systems full of vibrant colors will literally turn white when experiencing levels of stress. This is known as coral bleaching.  If this occurs for an extended period of time, reef systems are in danger of dying. 

Healthy vibrant coral contains algae. Coral and algae both need the other to survive. These algae, more specially known as zooxanthellae, aids in creating those deep and beautiful colors we see within reef systems. Zooxanthellae live in the coral tissue and provide food that creates color. 

In a stressful environment, the algae will withdraw from the coral, leaving it in a vulnerable state with no additional food source.  Eventually, the coral will die due to starvation or diseases spreading through it. 

There are a few different ways for coral to be stressed. The first and most common stressor is a changing climate. It only takes a 2-degree temperature change within ocean waters to cause a bleaching event. Other ways coral reef systems become stressed include pollution, overexposure to light, and low tides.

There are huge repercussions that come into play when coral bleaching occurs. Many aquatic animals survive off of coral reefs and the ecosystem it provides. Coral acts as a barrier or wall to aid in protecting land from storm surge during landfall hurricanes.

It has been reported that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest reef system in the world, has over two-thirds bleached or dead coral. On the bright side, this summer coral coverage within the Great Barrier Reef has increased by 39%.