SOUTH ARI ATOLL (Maldives) — There were startling colors here just a year ago, a dazzling array of life beneath the waves. Now, this Maldivian reef is dead, killed by the stress of rising ocean temperatures. What’s left is a haunting expanse of gray, a scene repeated in reefs across the globe in what has fast become a full-blown ecological catastrophe.
The world has lost roughly half its coral reefs in the last 30 years. Scientists are now scrambling to ensure that at least a fraction of these unique ecosystems survives beyond the next three decades. The health of the planet depends on it: Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine species, as well as half a billion people around the world.
“This isn’t something that’s going to happen 100 years from now. We’re losing them right now,’’ said marine biologist Ms. Julia Baum of the Canada’s University of Victoria. “We’re losing them really quickly, much more quickly than I think any of us ever could have imagined.’’
Even if the world could halt global warming now, scientists still expect that more than 90 per cent of corals will die by 2050. Without drastic intervention, we risk losing them all.
“To lose coral reefs is to fundamentally undermine the health of a very large proportion of the human race,’’ said Ms Ruth Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
Coral reefs produce some of the oxygen we breathe. Often described as underwater rainforests, they populate a tiny fraction of the ocean but provide habitats for one in four marine species. Reefs also form crucial barriers protecting coastlines from the full force of storms.
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