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Coral Reefs exposed to imminent destruction from climate change

12/07/2009 12:10:27

Our grandchildren may never see coral reefs. Credit Simon Avery.

CO2 levels may already be too high for coral reefs to survive
Unless changes are made soon, our children may be the last generation who are able to see coral reefs and the wonderful wildlife that can be found living on them. Due to the combined effect of ocean acidification and ocean warming, coral reef survival is balancing on a knife edge, warns a meeting of leading scientists.
CO2 levels will be too high for coral reefs to survive

Organised by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the Royal Society, the meeting identified the level of atmospheric CO2 predicted to result in the demise of coral reefs.

At anticipated rates of emission increase, it is expected that 450 ppm CO2 will be reached before 2050. At that point, corals may be on a path to extinction within a matter of decades. "The safe level of CO2 that we should strive for is 320 ppm: 360 is now known to be the level at which reefs cease to be viable in the long term" says leading coral reef specialist Professor John E.N. Veron.

Mass coral bleaching events already happening
At today's CO2 level of 387 ppm, repeated cycles of coral death from mass bleaching have already sent most coral reefs into serious decline. By 2050, the remaining coral reefs could fall victim to ocean acidification. Such a catastrophe would not be confined to reefs, but could start of a domino-like sequence of the fall of other marine ecosystems.

Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough who co-chaired the meeting said "We must do all that is necessary to protect the key components of the life of our planet as the consequences of decisions made now will likely be forever as far as humanity is concerned".

Scientific evidence shows that we have long passed the point at which the marine environment offers reefs a guaranteed future. "The kitchen is on fire and it's spreading round the house. If we act quickly and decisively we may be able to put it out before the damage becomes irreversible. That is where corals are now." said Dr Alex Rogers of IPSO and the Zoological Society of London.

The meeting was held to identify tipping points for corals and to expose the issues raised by the plight of coral reefs. A statement detailing these concerns will be submitted to the UN FCCC process currently underway.
Until now, world leaders negotiating emissions reductions have not taken the ocean into serious account, but with so much at risk, the oceans can no longer be ignored. Now, there is every reason to believe that the oceans may in fact be the most vulnerable sector of our planet to climate change - with dire consequences for us all.

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