An international group of researchers representing thousands of coral scientists across the globe is calling for new commitments and actions by the world’s policymakers to protect and restore coral reefs.

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In a paper presented today at the International Coral Reef Symposium, the scientists said that the coming decade will likely offer the last chance for policymakers at all levels to prevent coral reefs “from heading towards world-wide collapse.”

The paper, developed by the International Coral Reef Society, pushes for three strategies to save the reefs: addressing climate change, improving local conditions and actively restoring coral.

“The model projections show that up to 30% of coral reefs will persist through this century if we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Andréa Grottoli, distinguished professor of earth sciences at The Ohio State University, society president and a contributing author of the paper.

“But if we are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, we have to do it now: The science and the models show that we have only a few years left to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that put us on that path. It has to happen this decade, or we won’t make that target.”

Coral reefs are at an inflection point, the researchers say. Stop climate change now – and start to reverse it – and some reefs might survive, with the possibility that they could be rebuilt in the future and provide the seeds to regrow damaged reefs elsewhere.

“From a coral reef perspective, we go from 30% of reefs surviving to only a few percent surviving if we don’t act now,” Grottoli said. “We are already faced with a grand challenge in trying to restore the reefs. Once we do eventually reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the planet is no longer warming at an accelerated rate, trying to restore from just a few percent is much more difficult.”

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