Among the hardest and most devastated parts of the planet so far impacted by climate change are coral reefs. We have seen mass bleaching events that are wiping out the worlds largest reef systems while ocean acidification tears them down if coral bleaching does not.
Corals are having an extremely tough time surviving due to climate change driven events and unfortunately new research is showcasing just how devastating that is. Presented at the 2020 Ocean Sciences Meeting, researchers believe that coral reef habitats may disappear almost entirely by 2100.
The models created by researchers showed that with current restoration standards and practices, there are few to no suitable sites by the year 2100 with climate change causing bleaching events and increasing the level of ocean acidification
As coral reefs are predicted to decline by 70-90% in the next 20 years due to climate change driven events, the researchers wanted to determine where coral restoration projects could have the most success. Restoration is the process of growing corals in labs and then transplanting them into the ocean where they can grow and thrive with the hope that restoration can boost the recovery of degraded reefs by increasing live coral coverage.
“By 2100, it’s looking quite grim,” said Renee Settera, biogeographer at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “Trying to clean up the beaches is great and trying to combat pollution is fantastic. We need to continue those efforts. But at the end of the day, fighting climate change is really what we need to be advocating for in order to protect corals and avoid compounded stressors.”
Coral bleaching occurs when coral polyps expel the algae that live inside their tissues due a stress related event such as temperature changes. The coral polyps live in an endosymbiotic relationship with these algae, which are crucial for the health of the coral and the reef. The algae provides up to 90 percent of the coral’s energy. When the algae is expelled the, bleached corals continue to live but begin to starve after bleaching and while some corals may recover, some in the GBR have not been able to due to the drastic change occurring.
To stop this vital loss of coral from happening, we must reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are released everyday into the atmosphere as well as including suitability analysis in the design of future projects to enhance the potential for restoration and maximize efficiency for future projects.
As climate change increases sea surface temperature and ocean acidification, it is imperative to locate ideal restoration sites that maximize chances of survivorship that are characterized by low change in sea level temperatures, low change in pH, low wave energy, low eutrophication and disturbance from human impact.