Dying reefs

Increasingly acidic oceans and warming water temperatures due to carbon dioxide emissions could kill off the world’s ocean reefs by the end of this century.

Scientists predicted that the pace of emissions means a level of 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will be reached by 2050, putting corals on a path to extinction in the following decades.

Oceans absorb large amounts of CO2 emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. But scientists say the oceans are acidifying as they absorb more carbon, disrupting the process of calcification used by sea creatures to build shells as well as coral reefs.

The world’s 400,000 sqkm of coral reefs – delicate undersea structures resembling rocky gardens made by tiny animals called coral polyps – are important nurseries and shelters for marine life.

They also protect coastlines, provide food, attract tourists and are potential storehouse of medicines. The scientists say governments should strive for a level of 320 ppm of CO2, saying 360 was a breaking point for reefs to survive. At the current level of 387 ppm of CO2, reefs are in serious decline, they said. – Reuters

The Star Online, 4 August 2009. Article.

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