Decade of Climate Change has Resulted in Extinction of 14% of Coral Reefs

The continual rise in sea temperature cost the world 14% of its coral reefs between 2009 and 2018, which is more than the combined size of Australia’s reefs. 

Experts from the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP)-funded Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network gathered data from more than 300 scientists from 73 countries over a 40-year period for the Sixth Status of Corals of the World: 2020 Report, which included two million individual observations. 

It was discovered that sharp losses in coral cover almost always correspond with significant increases in sea surface temperatures, demonstrating their vulnerability to temperature increases and that this occurrence is likely to become more common as the earth warms. 

According to the report, dynamic underwater coral cities support up to 800 different types of hard coral and are home to more than 25% of all marine life. 

Soft corals sway and bend among the rugged mountains of hard corals, offering extra habitat for fish, snails, and other marine life. 

Reefs also have the largest biodiversity of any environment on the earth, making them one of the most biologically complex and valuable ecosystems. 

Corals, on the other hand, release their colourful micro-algae when the water temperature rises too high, turning a skeletal white colour. Before they bleached, some glowed by naturally creating a protective covering of neon pigments. 

Because it indicates corals’ vulnerability to dangerous and lethal conditions, bleaching might be regarded of as the ocean’s version of the “canary in the coal mine”. 

The transition from coral to algae-dominated reefs diminishes the architectural complexity and structural integrity of these habitats, reducing their biodiversity and offering fewer goods and services to humans. 

Hard coral cover has been steadily declining since 2010, according to the report, with the worst effects occurring in South Asia, Australia, the Pacific, East Asia, the Western Indian Ocean, the Gulf, and the Gulf of Oman. 

Despite the fact that coral reefs cover only 0.2 per cent of the seafloor in over 100 nations, they provide safety, coastal protection, wellbeing, food, and economic stability to hundreds of millions of people, according to the report. 

The value of the goods and services they produce is estimated to be $2.7 trillion each year, with coral reef tourism accounting for $36 billion. 

Climate change, ocean acidification, and land-based pollution, as well as sediments from agriculture, marine pollution, and overfishing, all pose a threat to coral reefs. 

Maintaining the integrity and resilience of coral reef ecosystems is vital for the well-being of tropical coastal populations around the world, as well as a key component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Despite these bleak predictions, coral reefs still have a chance. They are incredibly resilient and can recover even in the face of large-scale disruptions. 

Within a decade of a catastrophic coral bleaching event in 1998, hard coral cover has recovered to pre-1998 levels. 

The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration began this year, with the goal of protecting our oceans via scientific advances and reviving the planet’s dwindling ecosystems. 

Political leaders will also attend the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th meeting on Monday, as well as the CoP’s 16th conference from April 25 to May 8 next year. 

Governments from around the world will meet to discuss a post-2020 global biodiversity framework that would outline how humankind will coexist with wildlife in the future decade.