Scientists race to prevent wipeout of world's coral reefs This May 2016 photo provided by the Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey shows a snorkeler surveying the coral bleaching in the Maldives. Coral reefs, unique underwater ecosystems that sustain a quarter of the world's marine species and half a billion people, are dying on an unprecedented scale. Scientists are racing to prevent a complete wipeout within decades. (The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey via AP)
Scientists race to prevent wipeout of world's coral reefs
Lexile

There were startling colors on South Ari Atoll just a year ago, a dazzling array of life beneath the waves. Now this Maldivian reef is dead. It was killed by the stress of rising ocean temperatures. What's left is a haunting expanse of gray. It's a scene repeated in reefs across the globe in what has fast become a full-blown ecological catastrophe.
 
The Maldives are a group of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean. 
 
The world has lost roughly half its coral reefs in the last 30 years. Scientists are now scrambling to ensure that at least a fraction of these unique ecosystems survives beyond the next three decades. The health of the planet depends on it. Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine species, as well as half a billion people around the world.
 
"This isn't something that's going to happen 100 years from now. We're losing them right now," said marine biologist Julia Baum of Canada's University of Victoria. "We're losing them really quickly, much more quickly than I think any of us ever could have imagined."
 
Even if the world could halt global warming now, scientists still expect that more than 90 percent of corals will die by 2050. Without drastic intervention, we risk losing them all.
 
"To lose coral reefs is to fundamentally undermine the health of a very large proportion of the human race," said Ruth Gates. She is director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
 
Coral reefs produce some of the oxygen we breathe. Often described as underwater rainforests, they populate a tiny fraction of the ocean. But they provide habitats for one in four marine species. Reefs also form crucial barriers protecting coastlines from the full force of storms.
 
They provide billions of dollars in revenue from tourism, fishing and other commerce, and are used in medical research for cures to diseases including cancer, arthritis and bacterial or viral infections.
 
"Whether you're living in North America or Europe or Australia, you should be concerned," said biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at Australia's University of Queensland. "This is not just some distant dive destination, a holiday destination. This is the fabric of the ecosystem that supports us."
 
That fabric is being torn apart.
 
"You couldn't be more dumb...to erode the very thing that life depends on - the ecosystem - and hope that you'll get away with it," Hoegh-Guldberg said.
 
Corals are invertebrates, living mostly in tropical waters. They secrete calcium carbonate to build protective skeletons that grow and take on impressive colors, thanks to a symbiotic relationship with algae that live in their tissues and provide them with energy.
 
But corals are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, and are suffering from rising ocean temperatures and acidification, as well as from overfishing, pollution, coastal development and agricultural runoff.
 
A temperature change of just 1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit can force coral to expel the algae, leaving their white skeletons visible in a process known as "bleaching."
 
Bleached coral can recover if the water cools, but if high temperatures persist for months, the coral will die. Eventually the reef will degrade, leaving fish without habitats and coastlines less protected from storm surges.
 
The first global bleaching event occurred in 1998, when 16 percent of corals died. The problem spiraled dramatically in 2015-2016 amid an extended El Nino natural weather phenomenon that warmed Pacific waters near the equator and triggered the most widespread bleaching ever documented. This third global bleaching event, as it is known, continues today even after El Nino ended.
 
Headlines have focused on damage to Australia's famed Great Barrier Reef, but other reefs have fared just as badly or worse across the world, from Japan to Hawaii to Florida.
 
Around the islands of the Maldives, an idyllic Indian Ocean tourism destination, some 73 percent of surveyed reefs suffered bleaching between March and May 2016, according to the country's Marine Research Center.
 
"This bleaching episode seems to have impacted the entire Maldives, but the severity of bleaching varies" between reefs, according to local conditions. This is according to Nizam Ibrahim, the center's senior research officer.
 
Worst hit have been areas in the central Pacific. That is where the University of Victoria's Baum has been conducting research on Kiritimati, or Christmas Island. It is in the Republic of Kiribati. Warmer water temperatures lasted there for 10 months in 2015-2016. It killed a staggering 90 percent of the reef.
 
Baum had never seen anything like it.
 
To make matters worse, scientists are predicting another wave of elevated ocean temperatures starting in April.
 
"The models indicate that we will see the return of bleaching in the South Pacific soon, along with a possibility of bleaching in both the eastern and western parts of the Indian Ocean," said Mark Eakin. He is coral reef specialist and coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch. It uses satellites to monitor environmental conditions around reefs. It may not be as bad as last year, but it could further stress "reefs that are still hurting from the last two years."
 
The speed of the destruction is what alarms scientists and conservationists. Damaged coral might not have time to recover before it's hit again by warmer temperatures.

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COMMENTS (19)
  • annakatep-cel
    3/17/2017 - 10:51 a.m.

    Coral reefs are a vital part of the world and many different ecosystems. They provide homes for many different creatures and other necessities for other things. These things are dying and being bleached at an alarming rate which is no good for the environment because of the different things that they affect. Without these ecosystems the ocean environment as well as humans lives will be negatively affected in a major way.

  • vaneises-
    3/20/2017 - 08:41 a.m.

    Scientists are in a hurry because damaged coral might not have time to recover before it's hit again by warmer temperatures and the world has lost nearly half of its coral reefs.

  • johannaw-cel
    3/20/2017 - 10:06 a.m.

    The world has lost about half of its coral reefs in the last 30 years. This is really dramatic because the health of the earth depends on it. Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine species, as well as half a billion people around the world because coral reefs produce some of the oxygen we breathe. Reefs also protect coastlines from the full force of storms by forming crucial barriers. They also provide billions of dollars from tourism, and fishing and are used in medical research for cures to diseases like cancer, and infections. But more and more coral reefs are getting destroyed by the rising temperatures due to the climate change because they are sensitive to temperature fluctuations. They are also suffering from rising ocean temperatures, acidification, overfishing, pollution, coastal development and agricultural runoff. In my opinion it is really importanat to protect those coral reefs because scientists say that even if the world could halt global warming now, more than 90 percent of corals will die by 2050. And our planet and every organism on it needs coral reefs.

  • abigailh-pla
    3/20/2017 - 12:15 p.m.

    This article starts by talking about the decline of coral reefs. Then, it explains why this is a problem by listing the ways that coral reefs are beneficial to the earth through providing oxygen and cures for viral/bacterial infections, acting as a habitat, etc. It continues on to discuss how the coral reefs are in danger. The article concludes with a dire prediction of how life will be affected if the problem is not addressed. The scientists that work to neutralize the current damage and prevent any future problems show their civic engagement by caring for the future of the earth. I do wish the article suggested ways that regular people could get involved in fixing the problem.

  • gabrielleb-pla
    3/20/2017 - 02:38 p.m.

    Coral reefs are one of the most important things to a marine ecosystem, but they are dying at an alarming rate. An increase in ocean temperatures causes the reefs to lose their color and degrade, which leaves 1/4 of marine life without a home, and coasts less protected from storms. Scientists are urging that we need to find a solution to this problem soon, or else these important parts of the ecosystem may be gone forever.

    I knew that coral reefs were in danger from global warming, but I did not know that the problem was this urgent. After reading this article I feel compelled to research this cause more and see if there is anything I can do to help. Next week I will be going to Mexico and be able to see some reefs, and I will certainly look at the opportunity with a thankful heart because the reefs might not be around much longer.

  • ksenyas1-pla
    3/20/2017 - 04:12 p.m.

    This was an article regarding the conditions of the worlds coral population. Due to a rise in ocean temperatures, a significant amount of this coral has become "bleached" and is dying. Coral is an essential part of the oceans ecosystem, and also provides shelter for 25% of the oceans species. This is a huge problem, and scientists are racing to find a solution before all of the worlds coral dies, which could be as soon as 2050. This relates to civic engagement because global warming is a hot topic, and this is a direct correlation between global warming and the earth being damaged. Moreover, most people enjoy going on trips to tourist destinations, and if this coral epidemic continues, there is going to be significantly less to look at when scuba diving and snorkeling.

  • olivial-orv
    3/20/2017 - 06:10 p.m.

    Scientists are in a hurry to save the coral reefs. Without coral reefs, our clean oxygen will slowly deplete, and many species of fish and other marine life will have to find new homes. Coral is also used for medical studies and medicine, so the coral is urgently needed. If scientists do not hurry, the coral will most likely die off by 2050.

  • nicoler1-pla
    3/20/2017 - 07:04 p.m.

    In this article, Becatoros shares information about the harmful affects warming ocean temperatures have had on coral reefs, particularly those in the Maldives. As coral becomes stressed by higher water temperatures, it releases algae, causing "bleaching". After an extended period of high temperatures, the coral will die. The article states that scientists have predicted that by 2050, over 90% of corals will die. I found this article shocking, and it made me think critically about the future of our planet if we continue to neglect it. I think that this article connects to civic engagement because as citizens, and humankind as a whole, it is our responsibility to care for the Earth. If we do not take action soon, coral reefs could be gone forever, taking marine life and vital resources along with them.

  • rachelt-pla
    3/20/2017 - 10:22 p.m.

    Huge parts of the world's coral reefs are dieing or being killed off by the stress of rising ocean temperatures. Because coral reefs are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, they are also suffering from acidification, overfishing, pollution, coastal development, and agricultural runoff-- leading to miles of grayness, instead of the once beautiful, multicolored species. Scientist estimate that by 2050, 90 percent of coral reefs will die and this is awful because coral reefs are crucial in life. They produce some of the oxygen humans breathe, they provide habitats for one in four marine species, and last but not least create a barrier protecting coastlines from the full force of storms. The coral reefs provide basic protections for countries and without the support of people (through civic engagement) to oppose the rising ocean temperatures, overfishing, pollution, and agricultural runoff, more and more of the reefs will die off, and soon worse problems will occur without the reefs. People have the opportunity to make a difference and help save the coral reefs!

  • collinh-pla
    3/20/2017 - 11:08 p.m.

    The world's coral reefs are undergoing a bleaching event. Unless drastic measures are taken right now, almost all the coral reefs will be dead in 30 years. Coral supports one in four marine species as well as millions of humans. Most of the world may be removed from reefs but we will all feel the effects unless we do something soon. The bleaching and large scale death of the reefs is just another side-effect of global warming. We are killing are planet and something needs to be done now!

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