DATE: January 5, 2018
SNIP: For decades, marine scientists have been warning of the demise of coral reefs in a warming world. But now, those warning calls have reached a full-scale alarm, leaving researchers at a loss for exactly how best to save the reefs.
A study published Thursday in Science by some of the world’s top coral experts amounts to a last rites for the ecosystems often referred to as “the tropical rainforests of the sea.” Scientists surveyed 100 reefs around the world and found that extreme bleaching events that once occurred every 25 or 30 years now happen about every five or six years.
“These impacts are stacking up at a pace and at a severity that I never had anticipated, even as an expert,” says Kim Cobb, a climate scientist and coral researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “It’s really the rapidity of it that is so sobering and shocking — and for me personally, life-altering.”
“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of,” Terry Hughes, a coral scientist at Australia’s James Cook University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement.
The new study finds that 94 percent of surveyed coral reefs have experienced a severe bleaching event since the 1980s. Only six sites surveyed were unaffected. They are scattered around the world, meaning no ocean basin on Earth has been entirely spared.
“It is clear already that we’re going to lose most of the world’s coral reefs,” says study coauthor Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch program. He adds that by 2050, ocean temperatures will be warm enough to cause annual bleaching of 90 percent of the world’s reefs.