Climate Change is Behind Coral Crisis

An assessment has revealed that three quarters of the world’s coral reefs are under serious threat and could potentially die out if current trends do not change and measures are not taken to protect them.

Climate change was one of the factors that was listed as contributing to the rapid decline of coral reefs across the globe. However, it is believed that climate change will have a more profound impact within the next twenty years. Over fishing and pollution were named as other relevant factors that were causing serious harm to coral reefs.

The Reefs at Risk Revisited report took under consideration hundreds of scientists’ research on coral reefs throughout the world. Over 20 research and conservation organizations took part in the report, which was led by the World Resources Institution, which is based Washington DC.

"This report serves as a wake-up call for policymakers, business leaders, ocean managers, and others about the urgent need for greater protection for coral reefs," explained Jane Lubchenco, who is head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.

"Local and global threats, including climate change, are already having significant impacts on coral reefs, putting the future of these beautiful and valuable ecosystems at risk," she added.

The report followed up on some of the information from the original Reefs at Risk report, which was completed 13 years ago. The research concluded that fishing is one of the factors, which is extremely damaging to coral reefs. This ranges from bad fishing practices such as using dynamite and over fishing in areas. The report also stated that by 2050, 95% of the worlds reefs are expected to be bleached due climate change and rising temperatures. Coral reefs can recover from this, but if bleaching becomes a regular trend, the coral eventually dies out.

"Reefs are already being hit by global warming," said Mark Spalding, who works as a senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy.

"They are the canaries in the coal mine, super-sensitive to warm summer temperatures, such that even a small background induces bleaching. Into the future, I suspect warming and acidification will become the major threats, but as we say again and again, no threats act in isolation; often it's the combination that really hurts," he said, while speaking to BBC News.

The research suggests that coral reefs in South East Asia are under the most threat. Despite the fact that a quarter of the world’s coral reefs are protected, scientists have suggested that only one sixth of these protected reefs have adequate protection.

Photo credit: Nick Hobgood