A new study has found that heatwaves associated with climate change are threatening coral populations in the Mediterranean. The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology, established that corals could be wiped out unless action is taken soon.
This wide-scale research on heatwaves’ long-term effects on corals has established that some areas have already seen an 80 to 90% reduction in biomass. According to the researchers behind the study, these reductions affect the ecosystem’s overall functioning. They say corals are the key to the existence and functions of coral reefs. Heatwaves threaten the existence of the reefs entirely, a situation that could affect sea life for almost all sea creatures.
The study was done by researchers from the Faculty of Biology, the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) at the University of Barcelona, and the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC) of Barcelona. The findings are part of the first long-term analysis showing heatwaves’ effects on corals in the Mediterranean.
Although there have been various studies on the impact of heatwaves on corals, most focus on short periods. Knowledge on long-term effects remains limited, given the time corals take to reproduce and grow. Corals grow over hundreds of years, a timeframe that complicates research.
For this study, the researchers analyzed results obtained in long-term monitoring on different populations of corals. The observed data dates back to 2003 when a heatwave caused mass coral mortality in the protected sea area of Scandola in Corsega, France.
“We observed an average biomass loss regarding the initial biomass of 80% in populations of red gorgonian, and up to a 93% regarding the studied population of red coral,” noted Daniel Gómez, a researcher at ICM-CSIC.
Joaquim Garrabou, also a member of ICM-CSIC, is more concerned with the continued depreciation of affairs over the years. “These data are worrying for the conservation of these emblematic species, and it indicates that the effects of the climate crisis are speeding up with obvious consequences for the submarine landscapes, where the loss of coral equals the loss of trees in forests.”
The experts now say that the only way to save the corals and their reefs is to take drastic measures. “There is an urgent need for stronger measures to be implemented against the climate crisis before the loss of biodiversity becomes irreplaceable,” the experts concluded.
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