By CALEB JONES
HONOLULU (AP) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says abnormally warm ocean temperatures are creating conditions that threaten to kill coral across the equatorial Pacific, north Pacific and western Atlantic oceans.
Coral bleaching occurs when coral is stressed by changes in its environment, causing it to release algae living in its tissue. The coral then turns pale or white and becomes more susceptible to disease. In severe cases, the coral can die, permanently changing the habitat for fish and shellfish.
Ocean temperatures, light and nutrient levels can cause bleaching, but NOAA says only warm temperatures can cause the widespread bleaching that scientists have been seeing since last year.
NOAA scientists say coral can recover from mild bleaching, but two consecutive years of bleaching could cause permanent damage.