Climate change is posing a major threat to the future of coral reefs. According to a recent United Nations-backed study, if swift action is not taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, annual coral bleaching events will affect nearly all of the world’s coral reefs. And coral bleaching can result in serious coral mortality – as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has recently illustrated.
According to the new research, which was recently published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, annual severe coral bleaching will impact 99% of the world’s reefs by the end of the century if current trends continue. This means that, on average, the yearly bleaching events would start hitting reefs in 2043. What’s even more alarming is that the pledges countries made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the historic Paris climate agreement will “do little to provide reefs with more time to adapt and acclimate.” The study found that even if the goals laid out in the climate accord are achieved, more than 75% of reefs would still experience severe annual bleaching before 2070.
So what exactly is coral bleaching? Coral bleaching is a phenomenon in which stressed corals – often as a result of warming ocean water temperatures – expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. Bleached corals can die if not given time to recover. Coral reefs around the world are currently being devastated by the longest and most widespread bleaching event on record.
Why should we care? Coral reefs provide habitat for more than 25% of the world’s marine species. And they are responsible for generating goods and services valued at $375 billion every year. These so-called ‘rain forests of the sea’ are in real trouble.
Photo, posted September 28, 2009, courtesy of Matt Kieffer via Flickr.