According to new research from scientists at the University of Hawaii Manoa, the warming and acidifying oceans could wipe out nearly all existing coral reef habitats by 2100. In fact, the researchers predict that 70-90% of coral reefs will disappear over the next 20 years alone as a consequence of climate change and pollution.
Some organizations are attempting to save coral habitats by transplanting live corals from labs to reefs. The idea is that the new young corals will help revive the reefs. But after mapping where such restoration efforts would be most successful, the research indicates that there will be little to no suitable habitat remaining for corals by 2100. Small portions of Baja California and the Red Sea are two of the sites that could remain viable by 2100, although neither are ideal due to their proximity to rivers. Sea surfaces temperature and acidity are two of the most important factors in determining the viability of a site for restoration.
Warming ocean waters stress corals, which cause them to expel the symbiotic algae living inside them. This turns the often colorful corals white – an event known as coral bleaching. Bleached corals are not dead corals, but they are at a higher risk of dying. These coral bleaching events are becoming more frequent as a result of the changing climate.
The projected increases in human pollution will only play a minor role in the future elimination of coral reef habitats. Ironically, that’s because humans have already caused such extensive damage to coral reefs that there aren’t many locations left to impact.
Warming, acidic oceans may nearly eliminate coral reef habitats by 2100
Photo, posted September 28, 2009, courtesy of Matt Kieffer via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.