A new study, which was published in Science, examined 100 coral reefs around the globe.
It found that the frequency of coral bleaching events has dramatically increased in recent decades.
The study found that mass coral bleaching events took place approximately every 25-30 years in the early 1980s. This contrasts with the curent occurence of once every six years.
Coral reefs are now transitioning into an era where the interval between bleaching events is too short for full reef recovery.
Cuba and Guam have experienced four severe bleaching events since 2005 alone. Coral bleaching is caused by anomalous warming of reef waters.
Warming results in the coral expelling the crucial microscopic symbiotic algae, which provides much of the coral’s nutrients.
If warming conditions are not reversed within a relatively short time frame, bleaching can lead to coral fatality.
Despite covering less than 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs provide major ecosystem benefits.
Reefs support a third of marine biodiversity, act as the spawning ground for many economically important fish species and offer vital coastal protection through buffering shorelines against waves and storms.
Leading author, Professor Hughes of Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said: “Our stark results will help spur on the stronger action needed to reduce greenhouse gases in Australia, the United States and elsewhere.”