coral reef ecosystem collapse

According to Peter Sale, a leading UN Scientist and author of the new book “Our Dying Planet“, coral reef ecosystems will be gone by the end of the century. This would give coral reefs the dubious distinction of being the first entire ecosystem to be destroyed by human activity.

Corals provide a habitat for a large and diverse number of species of fish, sea snakes and seabirds –- that are also dwindling because they rely on nutrition and food from corals. Not only are corals considered the rainforest of the sea, they also help humans by protecting shorelines by absorbing the energy of incoming waves.

Sale, who leads a team at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, reports that the decline in coral reefs is mainly due to climate change and ocean acidification. Other activities, including overfishing, pollution and coastal development, have also had a devastating impact on the world’s coral reefs.

“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,” says Sale.

Although around 20% of coral reefs have already been lost in the past few decades, Peter Sale is careful to stress that the corals themselves may well survive the effects of human activities and the destruction they cause.

“Although corals are ancient animals and have been around for hundreds of millions of years, there have been periods of reefs, and periods where there are no reefs,” explains Mark Spalding, of the US-based environmental group Nature Conservancy and the University of Cambridge. “When climatic conditions are right they build these fantastic structures, but when they’re not they wait in the wings, in little refuges, as a rather obscure invertebrate.”

Image Source: Gregory Moine