RP coral reefs will disappear in 50 years

THE Philippines has 27,000 sq. kms. of coral reefs, the second largest in Southeast Asia and among the finest in the world. Among the best examples are the Tubbataha Reef, Marine Park in Palawan, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Apo Reef in Puerto Galera, Mindoro, and Verde Island Passage off Batangas.

They will disappear in 50 years.

That is the conclusion one will make after reading a recent article in the Science Daily published Dec. 13, 2007, quoting the journal Science.

The report warns that if world leaders do not immediately engage in a race against time to save the Earth’s coral reefs, these vital ecosystems will not survive the global warming and acidification predicted for later this century.

“It’s vital that the public understands that the lack of sustaina­bility in the world’s carbon emissions is causing the rapid loss of coral reefs, the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystem,” says Drew Harvell, Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and head of the Coral Disease Research Team, which is part of the international Coral Reef Targeted Research (CRTR) group that wrote the new study entitled, “The Carbon Crisis: Coral Reefs under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification,” published in the journal.

The paper was co-authored by 17 marine scientists in seven countries.

The rise of carbon dioxide emissions and the resultant climate warming from the burning of fossil fuels are making oceans warmer and more acidic. This triggers widespread coral disease and stifling coral growth leading to functional collapse.

The scientists say rising global CO2 emissions represent an “irreducible risk” that will rapidly outstrip the capacity of local coastal managers and policy-makers to maintain the health of these critical ecosystems, if CO2 emissions are allowed to continue unchecked.

“We have little time in which to respond, but respond, we must!” says Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, lead author of the Science paper, The Carbon Crisis.

“Coral reefs have already taken a big hit from recent warm temperatures, but rapid rises in carbon dioxide cause acidification, which adds a new threat: the inability of corals to create calcareous skeletons,” says Harvell.

“Acidification actually threatens all marine animals and plants with calcareous skeletons, including corals, snails, clams and crabs. Our study shows that levels of CO2 could become unsustainable for coral reefs in as little as five decades.”

“The livelihoods of 100 million people living along the coasts of tropical developing countries will be among the first major casualties of rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere,” says Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg.

“The warmer and more acidic oceans caused by the rise of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels threaten to destroy coral reef ecosystems, exposing people to flooding, coastal erosion and the loss of food and income from reef-based fisheries and tourism. And this is happening just when many nations are hoping that these industries would allow them to alleviate their impoverished state,” says the scientist.

Natural wonders of great beauty, coral reefs are a multi-billion dollar tourism draw. Australia alone makes $6.8 billion a year from its Great Barrier Reef. Damage to the corals puts at risk the world’s marine ecosystem. The total economic value of coral is estimated to be $30 billion.”

USA Today has a simple explanation about the phenomenon: “Burning coal, oil and gas adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, the same gas used to give soft drinks fizz. Just as carbon dioxide is absorbed into the drink, ocean water absorbs it from the air. When the carbon dioxide enters the ocean, it makes the water more acidic. That interferes with the ability of coral to calcify their skeletons: They can no longer grow and they begin to die.

“Coral reefs are important because they act as hatcheries and nurseries for open ocean fish. They also protect coasts from storms, and provide fish, recreation and tourism dollars. It is estimated that coral reef fisheries in Asia feed one billion people.”

Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg of The University of Queensland, says “raising as little as 1°C the temperature that ocean surface waters reach in summer subjects coral reefs to stresses which lead quickly to mass bleaching. Raise the temperature a little more, and the corals that build reefs die in great numbers. No coral, no coral reef ecosystem.”

Hoegh-Guldberg says the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is 380 parts per million (ppm), which is 80ppm higher than where it has been for the past 740,000 years, if not 20 million years. Increasing atmospheric CO2 has already brought about a +0.74°C rise in temperature, he says.

He warns that “if current CO2 emission trends continue, then even the most conservative estimates predict CO2 concentrations exceeding 500ppm and global temperature increases of 2°C or more by the end of the century. Under these conditions coral reefs are likely to dwindle into insignificance; they’ll be reduced to rubble, threatening the fate of those tens of millions of people whose livelihoods depend upon them.”

Tony Lopez, The Manila Times Internet Edition, 21 December 2007. Article.

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