World_Without_Corals_Science_Article

World_Without_Corals_Science_Article - NEWSFOCUS Besieged...

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4 MAY 2007 VOL 316 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org 678 NEWS FOCUS CREDIT: COURTESY OF NIPHON PHONGSUWAN/PMBC Besieged by pathogens, predators, and people, the “rainforests of the sea” may soon face their ultimate foe: rising ocean acidity driven by CO 2 emissions KHURA BURI, THAILAND— In the shallow waters off Lan Island in the Andaman Sea, Kim Obermeyer kicks his flippers and glides over a silent graveyard. Scattered below are shards of staghorn and other branching corals, shattered in fragments that look like detached finger bones. The conservation biol- ogist swims farther out to sea, darts to the bot- tom, and peers under an overturned Porites coral head the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Obermeyer points to a brown ribbon under- neath: a ragged colony soaking up just enough sun to have survived the tsunami that struck on 26 December 2004. As a horrific tragedy unfolded on shore that day, ecosystems below the ocean’s surface were getting hammered. Across Southeast Asia, the titanic waves ripped apart shallow reefs and buried others in silt. But tsunamis are not the worst threat. The main menaces are largely human-wrought: from divers clumsily breaking off chunks of coral to mass die-offs and bleaching of coral triggered by spikes in ocean temperatures. Last month, the Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast “more frequent coral bleaching events and widespread mortality” with average global temperature increases of 1° to 3°C. Surveys suggest that 20% of the reefs on Earth, the largest living structures on the planet, have been destroyed in the past few decades. Another 50% are ailing or verging on collapse. “Reefs are likely to witness a significant ecological crisis in the coming half-century—because of us,” says coral spe- cialist Camilo Mora of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. The decline of coral reefs may have stag- gering consequences. Globally, reefs gener- ate about $30 billion per year in fishing, tourism, and protection to coasts from storm surges, says Mora. Although reefs cover a minuscule fraction (0.1%) of seabed, they are second only to rainforests in biodiversity, sheltering or nourishing up to 9 million species—a third of all known marine life forms—including 4000 kinds of fish. “To predict that reefs will change dramatically across the globe in the matter of a single gen- eration should keep people up at night,” says Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland in St. Lucia, Australia. There are a few rays of light in this bleak seascape. Attempts to rehabilitate tsunami- damaged reefs are showing promising results. Some reefs blighted by bleaching have mounted spectacular comebacks. And efforts to limit fishing and human activity have paid dividends in healthier reefs and revived local fisheries. Over the past decade, hundreds of marine protected areas have been established to safeguard reefs, including innovative MPAs
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World_Without_Corals_Science_Article - NEWSFOCUS Besieged...

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