A new report released by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network found that up to 14% of the world’s coral reefs have been depleted due to climate change between the years 2009 and 2018. In the period under review, mass coral bleaching events were experienced due to warming waters.
The study is the largest done to review the status of corals across the world. It included observation of reefs in more than 70 countries over the past 40 years. The research found that the highly sensitive reefs were exposed to tough conditions due to climate change, including high temperatures and tsunamis. Tough weather patterns are said to have contributed to the depletion of the essential reefs.
The study estimates that the loss amounts to over 4,500 square miles of reefs lost in just nine years. This is more than all the living coral off the coast of Australia including the great barrier reef. The loss of corals is likely to continue since the world is on an upward warming trend, according to Paul Hardisty, head of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
“There are clearly unsettling trends toward coral loss, and we can expect these to continue as warming persists,” 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 urgently curbing global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating local pressures.”
The value that coral reefs add to the ecosystem can never be overstated. Although they make up 0.2% of the ocean floor, they account for over 25% of the ocean system’s biodiversity. Coral reefs provide approximately $2.7 trillion in value per year, according to the report. Tourism contributes about $36 billion of this amount. With such a huge economic impact, coral reefs are just as important as other economic activities in the modern age.
The good news is that, although coral reefs are vulnerable to climate change, they are still resilient. The report found that the reefs were facing the fight against warming waters. However, the researchers warn that the situation might soon change. With carbon emissions still on the rise, chances are the corals may not survive the high temperatures.
Photography by Tom Fisk