Coral Bleaching Goes Viral

WHEN TROPICAL WATERS WARM or get polluted, coral reefs may take drastic measures. They can expel the algae that provide them with stunning colors — and vital nutrients. So-called bleaching events have been documented across the globe with increasing frequency and can be fatal to the corals.

Oregon State University researchers have discovered a new twist: Viral infections blossom as bleaching events unfold. “This research suggests that viral infection could be an important part of the problem that until now has been undocumented, and has received very little attention,” says Rebecca Vega-Thurber, microbiologist in the OSU College of Science.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has estimated that by the end of last year, almost 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs were exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach.