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Despite coral’s resilience and ability to reproduce rapidly, experts say that unless the reef is given relief from warming waters, it won’t stand a chance of regenerating
Terry Hughes, a professor at the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland and a co-author of the study explained, “The only effective way to improve the outcome for coral reefs is global action on greenhouse gasses. If global temperatures rise to 3 or 4 [degrees Celsius], the reef will be unrecognizable, so there is no time to lose.”
Why This Matters: The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most complex and biodiverse ecosystems in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the reef and its accompanying islands support “1,500 species of fish, about 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusk, and some 240 species of birds, plus a great diversity of sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans, and other species,” many of whom are also threatened by human activity and climate change.
Growing Threats: The Great Barrier Reef, and many others, are primarily threatened by “coral bleaching” a process by which changing water temperatures, pollution, low tides, and overexposure to sunlight drives away the algae that live on the surface of the coral and provide it with food. The coral is left brittle, pale, and susceptible to disease.
Like many problems caused by climate change, the rapid death of corals is a vicious cycle that experts say will be extremely difficult to reverse. As reefs die, clusters of corals grow farther apart and it becomes harder for them to reproduce, and less likely that the reef will recover.
“If I don’t see one-year-old, two-year-old, three-year-old corals, I know that reef is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet,” Said Bob Richmond, a research professor and director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Is There Hope? Scientists have already begun engineering potential solutions. Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the University of Sydney recently partnered to develop “marine cloud brightening” which could potentially reflect sunlight away from the reef, preventing further coral bleaching.
Other experts, like Gabby Ahmadia, director of ocean science at the World Wildlife Fund, are hopeful for the future of coral reefs worldwide. In Indonesia, she said, some coral is developing resistance to warmer temperatures and ocean acidification, but Ahmadia knows that’s not enough. “The reality of the situation is that coral reefs are declining around the world, but the hope is we can have better local solutions to overfishing, runoffs from land and farming practices,” she said, “They are going to decline, no doubt, but we can conserve what’s left.”
Although reluctant to put a time of death on the world’s coral reefs, experts fear that if solutions aren’t implemented soon, there will be nothing to conserve at all. Ahmadia says she feels the pressure, “a lot of people say 90 percent of the coral loss will happen by 2050.” Richmond agrees, “if we don’t act meaningfully in the next five years, we will not have vital and vibrant coral reefs as a legacy for future generations.”
This piece was originally featured in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and has been reprinted with permission. by Adam Sobel Donald Trump has said, several times in the week up to and including September 29’s presidential debate, that he will not commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election in […]
Why This Matters: Like environmental issues generally, Native American issues are being elevated with the new calls for improving environmental justice and ending structural racism embodied in the high rates of pollution and lack of clean drinking water on tribal lands.
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