Climate Change Threatens Survival Of Coral Reefs Worldwide

Coral reefs offer an amazing opportunity for people to explore the underwater world through scuba diving or snorkelling.

Main picture clownfish swimming in coral credit Thomas Quine on flickr

A popular diving website, liveaboard.com, lists a number of Southeast Asia coral reef among the best in the world including:

  • Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia – The Wakatobi UNESCO Marine Biosphere Reserve stretches across a staggering 1.39 million hectares and has some of the clearest, clean waters you will ever find as a diver.
  • Tubbataha National Park, Philippines – A UNESCO World Heritage Site with hundreds of coral and fish species at Tubbataha, plus around 13 species of whales and many sharks.
  • Apo Reef, Philippines – The world’s second-largest contiguous coral reef and offers fantastic coral reef diving. The table corals are enormous, standing out amongst boulder corals, brain corals, fire corals and more.
Coral reef credit Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten on flickr

But for how much longer?

Coral around the world has been damaged and destroyed by chahnging climate conditions. The Coral Reef Alliance reports that 14% of the world’s coral reefs were lost in just 10 years, primarily due to climate change.

Coral reefs are home to a quarter of all marine life – that’s more species than rainforests. Animals use reefs for shelter, food and laying eggs. They are vital for people too – they protect coastlines by reducing the impact of storms and waves, which can cause destruction and land erosion. 

25%

of all marine life depends
on coral reefs

500 million

people depend on coral reefs for food, income, and coastal protection

US$375 billion

the annual global economic benefit from coral reefs each year

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that:

  • Coral reefs harbour the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem globally and directly support over 500 million people worldwide, mostly in poor countries.
  • They are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth, largely due to unprecedented global warming and climate changes, combined with growing local pressures.
  • Over the last three years, reefs around the world have suffered from mass coral bleaching events as a result of the increase in global surface temperature caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
  • According to UNESCO, the coral reefs in all 29 reef-containing World Heritage sites would cease to exist by the end of this century if we continue to emit greenhouse gases under a business-as-usual scenario.
  • Limiting global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels in line with the Paris Agreement provides the only chance for the survival of coral reefs globally.
Coral reef credit Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten on flickr

The recent COP26 Conference held in Glasgow made a number of agreements that may help to preserve some coral reef but the reality is that it may be too little too late for many reef systems around the world.

The problem is that climate change impacts on corals in may way:

  • Increasing Ocean Temperatures – increase thermal stress on the reef and leads to coral bleaching, the most well-known impact on reef systems
  • Rising Sea Levels – increase sedimentation which smothers coral
  • Changes on storm patterns – Reef structures are destroyed by stronger and more frequent storms
  • Changes in Rainfall – increased runoff of freshwater, seiment and land-based pollutants result in algae blooms and murky water which reduces sunlight to the reef
  • Changing Ocean Currents – changes in connectivity and temperature result in a lack of food and the dispersal of larvae
  • Ocean Acidification – increasing levels of CO2 reduce the pH which slows growth rates and structural integrity of coral reefs.

Even a short-term spike of 1–2°C in ocean temperatures can lead to bleaching, turning corals white. If corals are bleached for prolonged periods, they eventually die. Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia during 2016 and 2017 is believed to have killed around 50% of its corals.

Denises Pygmy Seahorse in coral credit Rickard Zerpe on flickr

Evidence shows that if we can manage pollutants and direct damage from boats and other mankind activity and, critically, reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming to 1.5°C corals will be able to adapt to a warmer world. 

If we do not achieve those targets then we risk permantly losing over 90% of our coral reefs by 2050.

Everyone can do their part in reducing damage to the reefs, it is not just about large corporations and governments.

If everyone makes a concerted effort to reduce their personal emissions we can make a real difference.

  • Drive less
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle – avoid single-use plastic
  • Use energy efficient appliances and lightbulbs
  • Where possible change to more energy efficient and greener forms of heating and energy
  • Print less, download more
  • Use less water
  • Reduce the use of chemicals in gardens
  • Only use responsible operators when scuba diving or snorkelling and practive good reef etiquette
  • Put pressure on local and national governments to ensure real change takes place
  • Wherever possible travel in a sustainable manner, using local businesses and responsible operators
Moray eel peering out from the coral reef credit Thomas Quine on flickr

We have the benefit of exploring majestic coral reef and enjoying the benefits both under water and the resulting benefits of the reef. Don’t deny our children and grandchildren that opportunity by being irresponsible.

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Published by flyingdogtravel

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