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Coral Reef Extinction Could Have Catastrophic Effect

March 26, 2010

Coral reefs are slowly becoming extinct and could disappear entirely within the next century — which could have disastrous results all over the world, experts claim.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statistics published in a March 25 Associated Press (AP) article, roughly 19-percent of the Earth’s coral reefs have already disappeared, and an additional 15-percent could be gone within the next two decades.

Furthermore, Dr. Kent Carpenter, a professor at Old Dominion University, believes that global climate change could result in the extinction of the species in no more than 100 years unless more is done to combat global warming.

Were that to occur, the results could be catastrophic. Coral reefs are eaten or inhabited by many of the oceanic fish population, which in turn provide a food or income source for an estimated one-billion people around the world. In addition to hunger and poverty, some predict that severe political unrest could also result, should the coral reef actually become extinct.

“You could argue that a complete collapse of the marine ecosystem would be one of the consequences of losing corals,” Carpenter told Brian Skoloff of the AP on Thursday. “You’re going to have a tremendous cascade effect for all life in the oceans.”

“Whole nations will be threatened in terms of their existence,” added Carl Gustaf Lundin of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

According to Skoloff, “Experts say cutting back on carbon emissions to arrest rising sea temperatures and acidification of the water, declaring some reefs off limits to fishing and diving, and controlling coastal development and pollution could help reverse, or at least stall, the tide.”

Such measures have met with resistance, however. Earlier this week, in fact, a proposed set of restrictions on the trade of coral species was rejected by the member nations of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Failing to establish such regulations, however, could create a chain effect that could wipe out other seagoing species, such as grouper, snapper, oysters, and clams, and destroy a fishing industry that directly employs at least 38 million individuals worldwide.

“Fish will become a luxury good,” Cassandra deYoung of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization told Skoloff. “You already have a billion people who are facing hunger, and this is just going to aggravate the situation. We will not be able to maintain food security around the world.”

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