Coral reefs are amazing and thriving ecosystems built from living geology and a fantastic array of fish, bivalves, cnidarians, echinoderms and more. Diving into one or snorkeling above it is a magical experience that makes the human world pale in comparison.
If that’s not enough, coral reefs also provide communities and the world with seafood, tourism revenue and storm barriers. Entire islands are built from ancient reef systems. Medicines have been and continue to be developed from chemicals found in IUCN ecosystems.
Sadly, these enchanted places are dwindling and disappearing, largely due to rising temperatures among other threats. If temperatures continue to rise at the current rate, it is estimated that coral reefs will be gone within 80 years.
“Entire reefs I used to dive and snorkel on have disappeared. There are species that you no longer see on the reef. The change is happening now,” said Dan Holstein, a professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University.
Holstein and his collaborators created an open-source computer model to predict how warming ocean waters could harm and destroy coral populations in the western Atlantic. This region includes the Florida Keys, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
Warming oceans are increasing instances of coral bleaching, when the symbiotic algae that coral polyps need to live are displaced, leaving behind dying, colorless corals. While that’s the inevitable result of rising temperatures, Holstein doesn’t think coral extinction is inevitable. Rather, it is a call to action.
“This model predicts that warming oceans will reduce the ability of migrating coral larvae to replenish bleached and dead reefs. The model doesn’t seal the fate of coral reefs, but it is a big red flag,” Holstein said. “Heat stress isn’t the only problem corals face, but it’s considered the most important. And how much carbon we release into the atmosphere is something we can decide. We can actually do something about it.
The study is published in the journal Coral reefs.
By Zach Fitzner, Terre.com Personal editor