A new report published by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network showed that up to 14% of the world’s coral reefs have been depleted due to climate change between 2009 and 2018. During the study period, mass coral bleaching events were experienced due to warming water.
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The survey is the largest conducted to review the status of corals worldwide. It included the observation of reefs in more than 70 countries over the last 40 years. The study found that the highly sensitive reefs were exposed to harsh conditions due to climate change, including high temperatures and tsunamis. Severe weather patterns are said to have contributed to the depletion of the essential reefs.
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The study estimates that the loss amounts to over 4,500 square miles of reef lost in just nine years. This is more than all the living corals off the coast of Australia including the Great Barrier Reef. The loss of corals is likely to continue as the world is on an upward warming trend, according to Paul Hardisty, head of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
“There are clearly disturbing trends towards coral losses, and we can expect these to continue as warming continues,” Hardisty said. “A clear message from the study is that climate change is the biggest threat to the world’s reefs, and we must all do our part by rapidly pushing global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating local pressure.”
The value that coral reefs add to the ecosystem can never be overestimated. Although they make up 0.2% of the seabed, they account for over 25% of the biodiversity of the marine system. Coral reefs provide about $ 2.7 trillion in value a year, according to the report. Tourism contributes about $ 36 billion of this amount. With such a large economic impact, coral reefs are just as important as other economic activities in modern times.
The good news is that although coral reefs are vulnerable to climate change, they are still resilient. The report found that the reefs faced the fight against water heating. However, researchers warn that the situation may soon change. With carbon emissions still rising, the chances are high that the corals may not survive the high temperatures.
Photograph by Tom Fisk