Scientists warn carbon dioxide may soon make coral reefs extinct

David Attenborough joined scientists today to warn that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already above the level which condemns coral reefs to extinction, with catastrophic effects for the oceans and the people who depend upon them.

Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life, including more than 4,000 species of fish. They also provide spawning, nursery, refuge and feeding areas for creatures such as lobsters, crabs, starfish and sea turtles.

This makes them crucial in supporting a healthy marine ecosystem upon which more than a billion people depend for food. Reefs also play a crucial role as natural breakwaters, protecting coastlines from storms.

Attenborough said the world had a “moral responsibility” to save corals. The naturalist was speaking at the Royal Society in London, following a meeting of marine biologists.

“A coral reef is the canary in the cage as far as the oceans are concerned,” said Attenborough. “They are the places where the damage is most easily and quickly seen. It is more difficult for us to see what is happening in, for example, the deep ocean or the central expanses of ocean.”

Global warming means warmer seas, which causes the corals to bleach, where the creatures lose the symbiotic algae they need to survive. Carbon dioxide also makes seas more acidic, which means the corals find it difficult to prevent their exoskeletons from dissolving.

Alok Jha, The Guardian, 6 July 2009. Full article.

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