Scientists race to prevent wipeout of world's coral reefs
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
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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. She works at 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. They protect coastlines from the full force of storms.
The reefs provide billions of dollars in revenue from tourism, fishing and other commerce. The reefs 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.
Corals are invertebrates. They live mostly in tropical waters. They secrete calcium carbonate to build protective skeletons. These 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. Now they 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. It leaves their white skeletons visible. The process is 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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Why are scientists in a hurry?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • vcara-dav
    3/26/2017 - 10:44 p.m.

    In response to "Scientists Race To Prevent Wipeout Of World's coral Reefs," I agree that scientists should save the coral reefs. One reason I agree is that the reefs support the life of a quarter of all marine species. Another reason is that they are using the corals for medical research for diseases such as cancer and arthritis.

    B It says in the article, "Eventually the reef will degrade, leaving fish without habitats and coastlines less protected from storm surges." Even though it might cost a little money, I think it is definitely worth it.

  • mtaylor-dav
    3/29/2017 - 05:05 p.m.

    This article is about scientists trying to prevent coral reefs from dying. The scientists are doing this for many reasons, such as, coral reefs produce some of the oxygen we breathe. Also the reefs form barriers to protect coastlines for full face storms and are habitats for one in four marine animals. More reasons are the coral reefs are used in medicine ti help cure diseases and a lot of money comes from tourist visiting reefs. "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 quote shows that no matter where you live, many reef ear you are dying. These corals are dying form overfishing, pollution, coastal devolvement, and agricultural runoff.

  • fpresley-dav
    3/29/2017 - 08:09 p.m.

    In response to "Scientists race to prevent wipe out of world's coral reef," I agree that we should save the coral reef. One reason I agree is because coral reef is so important for our environment. Another reason is that the reef helps keep fish we can eat, stay alive. It says in the article "These grow and take on impressive colors, thanks to a symbiotic relationship with algae that live in their tissues and provide them with energy". The color helps hid the fish which would help us stay alive. A third reason is that coral reef is a big part of the ocean.The reef helps the ocean in many ways. Even though coral coral scrap you, I think that this coral need to be saved.

  • hella-dav
    3/30/2017 - 06:12 p.m.

    This article is about the coral reefs and how they are being destroyed. High ocean temperatures have made the reefs die and have no color what so ever. In the Maldives especially and almost everywhere hot temperatures have made the reefs go away and not have any life in them. The once pretty ocean is now a deserted ocean.

  • hemyp-har
    4/07/2017 - 12:08 p.m.

    Scientists are in a hurry to preserve our coral reefs. They are in a hurry because many animals live there. If the coral reefs die so do the animals living there. The scientists are going as fast as they can to preserve these animals. These animals are in serious danger.

  • myahr-orv
    4/07/2017 - 05:18 p.m.

    I think that if the reefs disappear fish and other underwater animals will lose their home and leave them vaulnerable in the ocean. These fish that don't have homes could go extinct because they might be eaten by other underwater animals. It's very import to preserve the reefs in the ocean and people should find away to fix this problem.

  • andreaa1-ver
    4/21/2017 - 10:05 a.m.

    I thought that it is interesting how the rising ocean temperatures are what's causing the coral reefs to die out.

  • meghanp-bla
    4/28/2017 - 01:08 p.m.

    Scientist are in a hurry because the coral reefs are a very important to the underwater ecosystem. The health of our earth depends on the coral reefs that these scientist are tryin to save. Also a quarter of our marine sea life depend on coral reefs.

  • karas-bla
    4/28/2017 - 01:14 p.m.

    I think that this article is very important. Scientists are rushing to save what is left of the coral reefs because the planet depends on it. This is because coral reefs produce some of the oxygen we breathe. Also, the reefs let industries make millions of dollars off of tourists seeing them. If we do not help save them, many marine animals will be lost and barriers will not be protected.

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