Climate change could wipe out coral reefs in 30 years: report


If humans do not take drastic action to reduce emissions and slow climate change, almost all of the Earth’s coral reefs will be dead in 30 years, according to a new report that outlines ways we can pinpoint which reefs to protect now.

Even with immediate reductions, it may already be too late to save many of these reefs, potentially dooming the marine species who call coral reefs their home and depriving around half a billion people worldwide of their livelihoods and culture heritage, according to a press release from the researchers issuing the stark warning.

“Coral reefs are the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ when it comes to sensing ecosystems under stress from ocean warming due to climate change,” Jens Zinke, a professor of paleobiology at the University of Leicester in PLACE, said in the press release. “Corals can sense when ocean temperatures exceed a dangerous threshold and warn us when we need to take measures.

“Our research has shown that coral reefs have been severely impacted by ocean warming in the past three to four decades.”

Zinke is one of the co-authors of The Vibrant Oceans Initiative’s white paper addressing the future of delicate habitats under climate change, presented at the Our Oceans conference on Thursday.

A white paper is an in-depth report or guide that describes a complicated issue while putting forward recommendations for a solution.

In the report, experts highlighted how the last 30 years of research into climate change’s effects on coral reefs has shown that ocean temperatures have a serious impact on coral reefs.

If humans meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and keep emissions to within 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels — a target the world is currently on track to exceed — up to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs may still be degraded in the next 30 years, the release stated.

To try and stem the devastating effects of climate change on their important marine ecosystems, the Vibrant Oceans report laid out six recommendations for governments and conservation organizations to focus on for future conservation efforts.

The first two recommendations were to continue and expand the 50 Reefs initiative, which seeks to identify a portfolio of reefs across the globe that were most likely to be able to survive the devastation of climate change, and should be targeted by conservation efforts.

This new report recommends an expansion of the 50 Reefs initiative by creating “three types of climate change sanctuaries: avoidance, resistance, and recovery refugee.”

Most research has focused on reefs that have been able to avoid climate change stressors so far, due to factors such as their location, but there should be more research into reefs that have shown the ability to recover some life after suffering coral bleaching, or have shown resistance to the effects of climate change, researchers say.

Zinke added in the release that “some reef locations show lower rates of warming or benefit from mitigating circumstances due to local oceanography.

“Some reefs have the ability to resist or recover from thermal stress faster than others, and these reefs may serve as sanctuaries under future warming. This is a major new research direction – to find those locations and protect them before they are gone.”

The other recommendations include providing financial support for regional evaluations of the 50 Reefs portfolio, monitoring coral reefs and develop new models and predictions relating to which reefs could be climate sanctuaries.

The white paper also highlighted how important it was to develop new predictive models in particular, pointing out that many predictive models for the future look at specifically just coral bleaching.

“As impacts of climate change accelerate and result in ecological surprises or adaptation/acclimation mechanisms, future modelling efforts should go beyond excess heat and temperatures to integrate globally comparable datasets of ecological surveys, hydrodynamic modeling, genetics, and remotely sensed environmental data layers,” the report stated.  





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