Time running out to save coral reefs

The window of opportunity to save the world’s coral reefs is still open but time is running out. A new study by an international group of scientists, including UvA marine biologists Dr Verena Schoepf and Niklas Kornder, has calculated how coral reef growth is likely to react to ocean acidification and warming under three different climate-change carbon dioxide scenarios: low, medium and worst-case. The study, just published in the journal PNAS, has some good news to offer amid a grim outlook.

Picture: Verena Schoepf

‘If the world can reduce carbon dioxide emissions drastically, coral-reef growth will be reduced, but many reefs will still be able to grow,’ says lead author Dr Christopher Cornwall, from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. ‘Some of them will even keep pace with sea-level rise. Even if we fail with those drastic reductions but do keep within the intermediate emissions scenario, some coral reefs will still keep growing for a short while, but by the end of the century they will all be eroding. If we hit the worst-case scenario, then very shortly all coral reefs will be eroding.’

Impact of climate change

The research by academics in New Zealand, Australia, the United States, France, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom breaks new ground.The interdisciplinary group of scientists formed initially as a working group led by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in 2016. There has been a great deal of individual research investigating the impact of climate change on individual corals and coralline algae, but this work gives broader projections of ocean warming and acidification, and their interaction, on the net carbonate production of coral reefs, which is a measure of coral reef growth.

University of Amsterdam, 10 May 2021. Press release.

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