Reefs ‘gone by end of century’

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Coral reefs are on course to become the first ecosystem that human activity will eliminate entirely from the Earth, a leading United Nations scientist claims.

He says this event will occur before the end of the century, which means that there are children already born who will live to see a world without coral.

The claim is made in a book published in the United States today, which says coral reef ecosystems are very likely to disappear in what would be ”a new first for mankind – the ‘extinction’ of an entire ecosystem”.

Its author, Professor Peter Sale, studied the Great Barrier Reef for 20 years at the University of Sydney. He currently leads a team at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

The predicted decline is mainly down to climate change and ocean acidification, though local activities such as overfishing, pollution and coastal development have also harmed the reefs.

The book, Our Dying Planet, published by University of California Press, contains further alarming predictions, such as the prospect that ”we risk having no reefs that resemble those of today in as little as 30 or 40 more years”.

”We’re creating a situation where the organisms that make coral reefs are becoming so compromised by what we’re doing that many of them are going to be extinct, and the others are going to be very, very rare,” Professor Sale says.

”Because of that, they aren’t going to be able to do the construction which leads to the phenomenon we call a reef. We’ve wiped out a lot of species over the years. This will be the first time we’ve actually eliminated an entire ecosystem.”

Coral reefs are important for their immense biodiversity. They contain a quarter of all marine species, despite covering only 0.1 per cent of the world’s oceans by area.

Carbon emissions generated by human activity are the biggest cause of the anticipated rapid decline, impacting on coral reefs in two main ways. Climate change increases ocean surface temperatures. This puts corals under enormous stress and leads to coral bleaching.

On top of this comes ocean acidification. Roughly one-third of the extra carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere is absorbed through the ocean surface, acidifying shallower waters.

Source: Canberra Times