Scientists warn increasing ocean temperatures could destroy world’s coral reefs within decades

New research published in the journal PeerJ, reports that strict conservation and protection measures has failed to halt the destruction of coral reefs in the Hawaiin Islands, with 90% of Hawaiian coral reefs suffering bleaching in 2014 and 2015.

Widespread bleaching of coral reefs, whereby corals expel crucial algae living symbiotically within their tissues, is a stress response to increasing ocean temperatures resulting from global climate change.

Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystems on Earth and provide ecosystem services for millions of people.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is also reported to be in “terminal condition” as back-to-back coral bleaching along its 2250-kilometre length in 2016 and 2017 has impacted 70% of the Reef.

Many corals need years to recover and increasing ocean temperatures and back-to-back bleaching events could spell the end for coral reefs within decades. The International Society for Reef Studies predicts that 90% of coral reefs will be at risk of destruction by 2050.

In a recent interview with the Guardian Dr Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech, said: “the idea that we will sustain reefs in the US 100 years from now is pure imagination. At the current rate, it will be 20 or 30 years, it’s just a question of time”.

This view is mirrored in an article published today in the journal Nature in which Professor Terry Hughes, of the James Cook University in Australia, states that “returning reefs to past configurations is no longer an option”.

The article highlights the need for maintaining and preserving what we have through “radical changes in the science, management and governance of coral reefs”.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on 2nd June 2017.


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