Remote Reefs Thrive Despite Climate ChangeNewsroom
As ocean warming continues to trigger widespread destruction of coral reefs, a decade-long study of remote islands in the Central Pacific suggests these biodiversity hotspots may be able to thrive despite the threats posed by an increasingly hotter planet.
With many parts of the globe in the grip of a nearly two-year coral reef bleaching event — fueled in part by El Niño-driven ocean warming — scientists and marine conservation advocates have feared many reefs could suffer irreparable damage and fade from existence in coming decades.
A new report from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography provides reason for optimism by highlighting the potential for preservation efforts. In a massive project spanning 56 islands, researchers documented 450 coral reef locations from Hawaii to American Samoa, with stops in the remote Line and Phoenix islands as well as the Mariana Archipelago.
The results — published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B — show that coral reefs surrounding remote islands were dramatically healthier than those in populated areas that were subject to a variety of human impacts.
Teeming with sharks, manta rays, jellyfish and sea turtles, these remote locations contrasted starkly with the heavily populated areas, which were encircled by coral reefs covered in murky seaweed and lacking much of the colorful algae that helps to cement a reef.
In recent decades, coral reef ecosystems worldwide have suffered significantly from overfishing, coastal development and dumping of toxic substances into ocean waters. Scientists have predicted that up to 70 percent of coral reefs could be lost by mid-century.
Occupying less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the ocean’s sea floor, coral reefs are estimated to be home to nearly a quarter of all marine species. They also provide several human benefits, including food, tourism and flood protection for coastline developments.
The new study will hopefully catalyze coral reef preservation efforts, which some have viewed as futile, said Stephanie Wear, senior scientist for the coral reef conservation program at the Nature Conservancy.
(Read the full article from The San Diego Union-Tribune.)