The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fears coral damage in epic proportions for 2014.

Unlike the month of March that comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb, the El Niño event in 1998 left devastation in its wake. However, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fear that global warming and this year could cause even more damage to the oceans’ coral that were tragically bleached when the “Little Boy” came around with its increased ocean temperatures. The bleaching that occurred 16 years ago, left coral so colorless that much of it has yet to recover nearly two decades later.

Coral Bleaching Could Reach El Niño Levels This Year

No algae no colors

The beautiful colors that people associate with coral is a result of the algae that cling to its foundations. Warmer water, unfortunately, means that coral no longer wants be algae’s figurative flatmate and rejects the protection that algae provides. When algae is spurned from the tissue of coral it turns a sickening white reminiscent of a movie stars teeth after a visit to a teeth whitening center.

While coral can survive the bleaching process multiple times, its resolve suffers with each event and sometimes it dies in the process. In addition to global warming, acidic ocean water accelerates the process.

“As the ocean becomes more acidified the bleaching threshold for corals drops, more carbon dioxide makes corals more sensitive to thermal stress. Not only are we seeing more thermal stress … but we’re making them more sensitive at the same time,” said Mark Eakin, lead member of the Coral Reef Watch team at NOAA, in a recent report and subsequent interview.

Coral bleaching next year could prove worse

While records only date to 1880, this year has been the hottest on record. Specifically, June and August saw the highest temperatures for the world’s oceans ever recorded while September was nearly 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the air has ever been in recorded history.

The team, led by Dr. Eakin, observed an area of coral near Hawaii that covered nearly 140,000 square miles that was devastated in 2014. This was especially true when it came to shallow water species of coral and even included species more resistant to bleaching making researchers fear the potential for a “new normal.”

There are a number of fish species that rely on coral to live and they have subsequently vanished from the area nearly altogether. The researchers fear next year when the potential for a tag-team of El Niño and global warming could wreak havoc on undamaged coral.