- PHOTOS: An underwater photographer documents an expanse of dead coral at Lizard Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Coral reefs, which are unique underwater ecosystems that sustain a quarter of the world's marine species and half a billion of its human inhabitants, are dying [at an accelerated rate and] on an unprecedented scale. Scientists are racing to prevent a complete wipeout within decades (The Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey via AP).
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Scientists race to save world's coral reefs
Associated Press (ap.org); Seth Auberon, Pat Macpherson, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly
SOUTH ARI ATOLL, Maldives [islands off of the tip of India] - There were startling colors here just a year ago, a dazzling array of life beneath the waves. Now this Maldivian reef is dead, killed by the stress of rising ocean temperatures. What's left is a haunting expanse of gray, a scene repeated in reefs across the globe in what has fast become a full-blown ecological catastrophe.
The world has lost roughly half its coral reefs in the last 30 years. Scientists are now scrambling to ensure that at least a fraction of these unique ecosystems survives beyond the next three decades. The health of the planet depends on it: Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine species, as well as half a billion people around the world.
"This isn't something that's going to happen 100 years from now. We're losing them right now," said marine biologist Julia Baum of Canada's University of Victoria. "We're losing them really quickly, much more quickly than I think any of us ever could have imagined."
Even if the world could halt global warming now, scientists still expect that more than 90 percent of corals will die by 2050. Without drastic intervention, we risk losing them all. "To lose coral reefs is to fundamentally undermine the health of a very large proportion of the human race," said Ruth Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
Coral reefs produce some of the oxygen we breathe. Often described as underwater rainforests, they populate a tiny fraction of the ocean but provide habitats for one in four marine species. Reefs also form crucial barriers protecting coastlines from the full force of storms.
They provide billions of dollars in revenue from tourism, fishing and other commerce, and are used in medical research for cures to diseases including cancer, arthritis and bacterial or viral infections. More