Archive for Friday, March 26, 2010

Death of coral reefs could devastate nations

March 26, 2010


A healthy coral reef in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands is shown in this undated photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to NOAA, some 27 percent of the world’s reefs are already gone. If current trends continue, the agency predicts another two-thirds will disappear by 2032. That’s nearly 70 percent of the world’s reefs gone in just the next 20 years.

A healthy coral reef in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands is shown in this undated photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to NOAA, some 27 percent of the world’s reefs are already gone. If current trends continue, the agency predicts another two-thirds will disappear by 2032. That’s nearly 70 percent of the world’s reefs gone in just the next 20 years.

— Coral reefs are dying, and scientists and governments around the world are contemplating what will happen if they disappear altogether.

The idea positively scares them.

Coral reefs are part of the foundation of the ocean food chain. Nearly half the fish the world eats make their homes around them. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide — by some estimates, 1 billion across Asia alone — depend on them for their food and their livelihoods.

If the reefs vanished, experts say, hunger, poverty and political instability could ensue.

“Whole nations will be threatened in terms of their existence,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Numerous studies predict coral reefs are headed for extinction worldwide, largely because of global warming, pollution and coastal development, but also because of damage from bottom-dragging fishing boats and the international trade in jewelry and souvenirs made of coral.

At least 19 percent of the world’s coral reefs are already gone, including some 50 percent of those in the Caribbean. An additional 15 percent could be dead within 20 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Old Dominion University professor Kent Carpenter, director of a worldwide census of marine species, warned that if global warming continues unchecked, all corals could be extinct within 100 years.

“You could argue that a complete collapse of the marine ecosystem would be one of the consequences of losing corals,” Carpenter said. “You’re going to have a tremendous cascade effect for all life in the oceans.”

Exotic and colorful, coral reefs aren’t lifeless rocks; they are made up of living creatures that excrete a hard calcium carbonate exoskeleton. Once the animals die, the rocky structures erode, depriving fish of vital spawning and feeding grounds.

Experts say cutting back on carbon emissions to arrest rising sea temperatures and acidification of the water, declaring some reefs off limits to fishing and diving, and controlling coastal development and pollution could help reverse, or at least stall, the tide.

Florida, for instance, has the largest unbroken “no-take” zone in the continental U.S. — about 140 square miles off limits to fishing in and around Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of islands and reefs teeming with marine life about 70 miles off Key West.

Many fishermen oppose such restrictions. And other environmental measures have run into resistance at the state, local, national and international level. On Sunday, during a gathering of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, restrictions proposed by the U.S. and Sweden on the trade of some coral species were rejected.

If reefs were to disappear, commonly consumed species of grouper and snapper could become just memories. Oysters, clams and other creatures that are vital to many people’s diets would also suffer. And experts say commercial fisheries would fail miserably at meeting demand for seafood.

“Fish will become a luxury good,” said Cassandra deYoung of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. “You already have a billion people who are facing hunger, and this is just going to aggravate the situation,” she added. “We will not be able to maintain food security around the world.”

The economic damage could be enormous. Ocean fisheries provide direct employment to at least 38 million people worldwide, with an additional 162 million people indirectly involved in the industry, according to the U.N.

Coral reefs draw scuba divers, snorkelers and other tourists to seaside resorts in Florida, Hawaii, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean and help maintain some of the world’s finest sandy beaches by absorbing energy from waves. Without the reefs, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists could suffer financially.

Many Caribbean countries get nearly half their gross national product from visitors seeking tropical underwater experiences.

People all over the world could pay the price if reefs were to disappear, since some types of coral and marine species that rely on reefs are being used by the pharmaceutical industry to develop possible cures for cancer, arthritis and viruses.

“A world without coral reefs is unimaginable,” said Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who heads NOAA. “Reefs are precious sources of food, medicine and livelihoods for hundreds of thousands around the world. They are also special places of renewal and recreation for thousands more. Their exotic beauty and diverse bounty are global treasures.”


lounger 8 years, 3 months ago

Greedy governments of the world should be ashamed. This is sad and needs immediate attention.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 3 months ago

"Doea everything need to be alarming?"

2009 was the fifth hottest year on record, consumer1, and the previous decade is the hottest decade on record.

I'm sure for you just having to get up off the couch for another beer is alarming. But you ain't seen nothing yet. When a billion people or more are displaced because of climate change, they might be looking for a space on your couch, and wanting to drink your beer.

anon1958 8 years, 3 months ago

consumer1 (anonymous) says…

This sounds like the new "Global warming" How satisfying it must be for those who always need some special cause to make them feel important.

There is nothing new about this situation. It may be news to people like consumer1 that rely on few news sources but the serious decline of coral reefs has been known about for years, is not in dispute and has been widely reported.

The fact that people like consumer1 are not aware of this situation is really not all that troubling because like all the other climate change nay sayers, they do not have a sophisticated understanding of the world and will just dismiss anything that does not support their ideologically based world-view.

Right wing naysayers disputed the human caused damage to the ozone until they were blue in the face and the chemistry they claimed was "impossible" was worked out in detail by scientists.

Right wing ideologues love to smugly decry who they label as the "scientific elite" but the situation is quite different. No "scientific elite" exists, instead this group of men and women need to be referred to as "those who are not idiots". Of course "those who are not idiots" is composed of a tremendously larger group than people who have chosen a scientific profession, but it excludes all right wing ideologues, almost all who are climate naysayers and not a few who post on these forums.

Coral reefs have extremely narrow ecological tolerances and a good metaphor may be that from a survival perspective they are a kind of anti-cockroach. Coral reefs are very easy to kill, the ecological equivalent of a sneeze will do it. They are also as important to the ocean's ecosystems as they are fascinating to humans. I suppose if you are a right wing ideologue living in the mid-western USA you probably just dont give a damn about coral reefs, but that just makes you all the poorer.

Now what you ones should really be worried about is the current acidification of the oceans that will continue beyond the inconveinence of killing the coral reefs. There is a pH "tipping point" that when achieved will make it impossible for most invertebrates to manufacture their shells. When this occurs, the whole ocean ecosystem will begin to crash in a rather dramatic fashion. The physiological data and experiments that showed the relationship of pH to the physiology of producing shells for invertebrates was worked out decades ago. I cant wait to hear the right wing nuts decry this data as just another new fangled alarmist theory by the socialist-commie scientific elite.

storm 8 years, 3 months ago

In most all topics, including environmentalism, journalism has become tabloid-like, inflammatory, and has the “sky is falling” mentality.

Even a Google-search will always, always bring up negative information because that information is reported the most. (Google OJ Simpson.)

It can be a real challenge to be correctly informed and therefore make knowledgeable decisions. Many people may not know about the google bias towards negativism, nor know there are other sources of news besides Murdoch's.

That said, coral-reef destruction isn't news but it is news-worthy.

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