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Coral Reefs Could Be Extinct By The End Of The Century

Robert Richmond
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Diver with coral.

If climate change continues at its current rate, coral reefs can be close to extinction in thirty to fifty years, researchers warn.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with algae. Corals provide algae protection while algae offer coral food. When corals experience intense marine heatwaves, the stress causes them to expel the algae living in their tissues. This causes coral to undergo "coral bleaching" where they turn white. When coral bleaches, they are not dead, but it becomes increasingly difficult for them to stay alive.

An international group of researchers, including Robert Richmond from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, is working on designing a blueprint for coral reef survival. This includes breeding coral to better adapt to rising sea temperatures, reef protection, and managing human activity.

Professor Richmond is optimistic about these study results.

"It can be very overwhelming to hear the doom and gloom. It’s not just a story of pessimism but quite the opposite," he said. "We do know that actions at the local level that improve water quality and bottom quality can result in improved recruitment of corals and recovery of breeze coming back again.

"We do know that coral can survive bleach events; at least certain species or genetic variants," he added.

Coral reefs provide protection against coastal erosion and wave damage. For Florida and Hawaiʻi alone, an estimated $1.8 billion of infrastructure is currently protected by coral reefs.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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