In a report released last week, the World Conservation Union announced that without intervention, half of the world’s coral reefs would be gone by 2045. “Twenty percent of the Earth’s coral reefs, arguably the richest of all marine ecosystems, have been effectively destroyed today,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, who runs the marine environment program for the Swiss-based nonprofit that published the report. “Another 30 percent will become seriously depleted if no action is taken within the next 20 to 40 years, with climate change being a major factor for their loss,” he added, noting that raw sewage and farm runoff are also major contributors to coral reefs’ woes.
Coral reefs are hotbeds of marine biodiversity as they provide food and shelter for a wide range of sea creatures. Climate change strikes a double whammy on reefs, though, as rising ocean surface temperatures combine with increased UV radiation to kill off the algae that gives these oases not only their color but also their nutrient base.
The World Conservation Union concludes that the only way to stave off a massive reef die-off would be the creation and speedy implementation of a global marine park network to protect reefs against stressors like pollution and overfishing that only exacerbate the damage caused by climate change. But whether even such Herculean steps would be enough to save the world’s coral reefs is anybody’s guess. The full report, entitled “Coral Reef Resilience and Resistance to Bleaching,” is available for free online at www.iucn.org.