Fifth of world’s corals are dead

The world has lost 19% of its coral reefs, according to the 2008 global update of the world’s reef status, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reported. The study, completed by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, indicates that if current trends in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue, many of the intact reefs may be lost over the next 20 to 40 years, with disastrous consequences for the 500 million people who depend on them for their livelihoods.


Although the report encouragingly states that 45% of the world’s reefs are healthy, the downward trend in the number of declining reefs has not been reversed globally. The primary threats to the world’s coral, such as increasing sea surface temperatures and seawater acidification, stem from climate change. These threats come in addition to human-related threats from overfishing, pollution and invasive species.


“The report details the strong scientific consensus that climate change must be limited to the absolute minimum," says Clive Wilkinson, coordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. "If nothing is done to substantially cut emissions, we could effectively lose coral reefs as we know them, with major coral extinctions.”


The report states that corals have a higher chance of survival in periods of climate change if other stress factors related to human activity are minimised. The health of coral reefs can be increased by well-managed marine protected areas, but proper enforcement is difficult, especially in remote areas where the most pristine reefs are found.


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