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Greenhouse Gas Emissions Killing World’s Coral Reefs

December 10, 2008

The remainder of the world’s coral is in danger of being eliminated as a result of human activities, pollution and over-fishing, according to an international report.

Released on Wednesday, the “Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008″ found that one fifth of the Earth’s coral reefs have disappeared since 1950, and the remainder could die off over the next 20 to 40 years unless initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions are enforced.

“Climate change must be limited to the absolute minimum to save corals,” said Julia Marton-Lefevre, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which is a member of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

Frequent or long-term bleaching kills or severely weakens corals, leaving them more vulnerable to disease, and resulting in a sea bottom covered with algae and sponges that may eventually smother remaining coral.

The report, issued by network and the International Coral Reef Initiative noted that some 500 million people worldwide depend on coral reefs to sustain their way of life.

A July report from NOAA found that more that that nearly half of U.S. coral reef ecosystems are considered to be in “poor” or “fair” condition.

“Unless the world gets serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next few years, it is likely there will be massive bleaching and deaths of corals around the world,” notes the report’s lead editor and global coral authority Clive Wilkinson who coordinates the Global Coral Monitoring Network in Australia.

“This will have significant impacts on the lives of the people in developing countries who are dependent on reefs for food, for tourism, and for protecting the land they live on,” he said.

The report brought together information from 370 contributors in 96 countries and states. It is the most comprehensive status report on reefs compiled to date.

A new feature of the 2008 reporting is publication of a separate report, “Socioeconomic Conditions along the World’s Tropical Coasts: 2008,” detailing socioeconomic data on how people use coral reefs in 27 developing tropical coastal countries.

Other negative impacts to corals in the past four years included the Indian Ocean tsunami, hurricane damage which combined with bleaching has endangered wide ranges of Caribbean coral reefs, and increasing human activity pressures including pollution, development, deforestation and overfishing in East Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, populated areas of the Pacific and Caribbean.

The positive finding of the report showed that there was major recovery of reefs in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific from climate change induced bleaching events in 1998.

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