Climate Change Pays a Visit to the Caribbean, and Coral Reefs Suffer

“Caribbean coral reefs–which make up one of the world's most colorful, vivid and productive ecosystems—are on the verge of collapse, with less than 10% of the reef area showing live coral cover,” reports The Guardian.

“With so little growth left, the reefs are in danger of utter devastation unless urgent action is taken, conservationists warned. They said the drastic loss was the result of severe environmental problems, including over-exploitation, pollution from agricultural run-off and other sources, and climate change.”

They go on to note a pretty shocking statistic: “In the 1970s, more than 50% [of the reefs] showed live coral cover, compared with 8% in the newly completed survey. The scientists who carried it out warned there was no sign of the rate of coral death slowing.”

MORE: Coral Reef Kill Offs in the Maldives

And the news from the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) isn’t much better: “Global climate change has already damaged many of the world’s coral reefs; more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will exacerbate this and threaten mass extinctions on coral reefs, including deep cold water corals.”The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has stated that, “Climate change impacts have been identified as one of the greatest global threats to coral reef ecosystems. As temperature rise, mass bleaching, and infectious disease outbreaks are likely to become more frequent. Additionally, carbon dioxide (CO2) absorbed into the ocean from the atmosphere has already begun to reduce calcification rates in reef-building and reef-associated organisms by altering sea water chemistry through decreases in pH (ocean acidification). In the long term, failure to address carbon emissions and the resultant impacts of rising temperatures and ocean acidification could make many other coral ecosystem management efforts futile.”

Aside from the environmental impact, ICRI warned that the economic implications of this destruction were also widespread noting, “damage to coral reefs will threaten the livelihoods of 500 million people around the world and seriously reduce the $100 billion that reefs provide the global economy.”

The Guardian also made note of the economic aspect saying that it, “is likely to have severe impacts on coastal villages, particularly in developing countries, where many people depend on the reefs for fishing and tourism. Globally, about 275 million people live within 19 miles of a reef.”

ScienceDaily, on the other hand, did offer some positive news. Summarizing the work of researchers who studied the entire length of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, they quoted Terry Hughes of James Cook University saying, "The good news is that, rather than experiencing wholesale destruction, many coral reefs will survive climate change by changing the mix of coral species as the ocean warms and becomes more acidic."

The article went on to say, “Hughes concludes that corals' response to climate change is likely to be more complicated than many had thought. Although he now believes that rising temperatures are unlikely to mean the end of the coral reef, critical issues remain.”

And here's Hughes big caveat: "If susceptible table and branching species are replaced by mound-shaped corals, it would leave fewer nooks and crannies where fish shelter and feed . . . Coral reefs are also threatened by much more local impacts, especially by pollution and overfishing. We need to address all of the threats, including climate change, to give coral reefs a fighting chance for the future."

Are you surprised that the Caribbean coral reefs are deteriorating so rapidly? What do you think should be done to try and halt the destruction?

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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |