New research shows grim future for coral reefs

Weather Blog

Credit: USGS.

Warmer temperatures and increasing acidity in oceans are raising concerns about the future of marine life. New research presented at this year’s Ocean Sciences Meeting (flagship conference of ocean science community) projects 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs will disappear over the next 20 years as a result of climate change and pollution… with climate change being the primary culprit.

Researchers state “although pollution poses numerous threats to ocean creatures, the new research suggests corals are most at risk from emission-driven changes in their environment.”

The science behind ‘coral bleaching’

“Warmer waters stress corals, causing them to release symbiotic algae living inside them. This turns typically vibrant-colored communities of corals white, a process called bleaching. Bleached corals are not dead, but they are at higher risk of dying, and these bleaching events are becoming more common under climate change.”

Coral bleaching has long been tied to the effects of climate change. According to NOAA, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in 2005 due to a massive bleaching event due to warm waters near the northern Antilles/Puerto Rico expanding southward. The ‘thermal stress’ of the 2005 event was said to be greater than the prior 20 years combined.

Cold-water induced stress has also been tied to coral bleaching (ex. ~12°F drop in water temperatures off the Florida Keys contributed to coral death in January 2010).

Restoration efforts

Environmental groups have made efforts in restoring and preserving coral reefs… but new findings show that by 2100, few, if any, suitable environments will remain.

Scientists created simulations of ocean environments taking into consideration changing acidity, temperature, wave energy, pollution and over-fishing… and the results were disappointing. Most sites were deemed unsuitable for coral reef rehabilitation. The few sites that could be viable by 2100 included “only small portions of Baja California and the Red Sea, which are not ideal locations for coral reefs because of their proximity to rivers. “

For more information on the newly-released findings, click here.

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