The island of Kiritimati is one of the world’s most remote places — one of several dozen atolls making up the tiny island nation of Kiribati, a speck in the Pacific Ocean more than a thousand miles south of Hawaii. But, isolated as it is, news of its devastated coral is turning heads around the world. A recent expedition has revealed that the reefs around Kiritimati have suffered a catastrophic mass die-off — an event that epitomizes what may be an ugly truth about the ability of coral reefs around the world to adapt to the growing threat of climate change.

The situation at Kiritimati came to light during an expedition last month headed by researchers Julia Baum from the University of Victoria and Kim Cobb of Georgia Tech. They expected bad news before they even arrived — after all, the island is in the part of the world most strongly affected by the past year’s unusually severe El Niño event. Abnormally warm water temperatures have plagued the region for months, and as recently as November, research expeditions had observed widespread coral bleaching, disease and even some coral death as a result.

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Source: The Washington Post