Coral Die-Offs Are Faster and More Widespread than Previously Thought

The news just keeps on getting worse for coral: having already reported on a string of studies predicting large-scale doom and destruction for these fragile organisms, we were dismayed to hear that those estimates may actually have been on the low-end. Indeed, a new study by John Bruno, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and his colleagues has revealed that coral die-offs are more widespread and occurring faster than previously thought — at five times the rate of the rainforests' disappearance.

Bruno and his team of researchers spent 3 years compiling more than 6000 independent coral surveys of the Indo-Pacific region (which contains over 75% of the planet's coral reefs) — which spanned 40 years and recorded the condition of over 2600 reefs. After searching for historical and geographic loss patterns in the data, they concluded that over 3000 sq km of living coral reef had been lost each year and, more worryingly, that the rate of destruction was as rapid in protected habitats as it was in hard-hit areas like Australia's Great Barrier Reef. According to their findings, reports of widespread loss began appearing as early as the 1960s — previous research had indicated that serious losses had only begun appearing in the 1990s — and that the annual rate of reef disappearance quickly increased from 1% in the 1980s to 2% in the current decade. "We have already lost half of the world's reef-building corals," concluded Bruno. Citing overfishing, pollution and global warming as the likely culprits, the researchers cautioned that the huge losses in coral reefs would have enormous, unprecedented impacts on the Pacific region's economies and ecosystems. As Nancy Knowlton, a scientist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, grimly noted: "… there are no bright spots."

Via ::ScienceNOW: Coral Worse Off Than Believed (news website), ::The Blue Marble: Coral Reefs Disappearing Twice As Fast As Rainforests (blog)

See also: ::Melting Coral Epidemic Sparked by Warming Oceans
Image courtesy of CybersamX via flickr