World Resources Institute publishes report on threats to coral reefs from climate change

March 18th, 2011 by Richard Lord

(click publication cover to go to download page for report)

The World Resources Institute has published “Reefs at Risk Revisited” which updates their estimate of the percentage of the world’s coral reefs that are threatened globally by human activity.

Besides local destructive practices of coastal development and damaging fishing, warmer sea temperatures and ocean acidification, caused by rising levels of C02 in the atmosphere, threatens the survival of 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs.  If trends continue the survival of more than 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs will be at risk.

The report’s Executive Summary states “coral reefs face a wide and intensifying array of threats—including impacts from overfishing, coastal development, agricultural runoff, and shipping.”

The global threat of climate change has begun to compound these more local threats to coral reefs in multiple ways. Warming seas have already caused widespread damage to reefs, with high temperatures driving a stress response called coral bleaching, where corals lose their colorful symbiotic algae, exposing their white skeletons. This is projected to intensify in coming decades.

In addition, increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are slowly causing the world’s oceans to become more acidic. Ocean acidification reduces coral growth rates and, if unchecked, could reduce their ability to maintain their physical structure. With this combination of local threats plus global threats from warming and acidification, reefs are increasingly susceptible to disturbance or damage from storms, infestations, and diseases. Such degradation is typified by reduced areas of living coral, increased algal cover, reduced species diversity, and lower fish abundance.”

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