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‘Worst-case scenario’: Study shows coral reefs could go extinct in 30 to 50 years

Published: Jun. 12, 2021 at 4:07 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 12, 2021 at 4:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a recent study of underwater ecosystems, researchers made the grim discovery that coral reefs could become extinct in 30 to 50 years if steps aren’t taken to mitigate climate change.

An international group of scientists, including Robert Richmond, a research professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said the extinction of corals could happen under “the worst-case scenario.”

The group identified elevated sea temperatures as one of the main causes of a rise in mass coral bleaching episodes. These increased temperatures can kill corals and the ecosystems they support.

The study showed that these ecosystems are among the most threatened by global climate change.

Richmond said in areas monitored in the 1970′s there was 70% to 80% live coral cover — now there is only 5% to 10% cover.

Researchers said it is crucial to save coral reefs as more than 500 million people rely on coral reefs for protection against coastal damage from waves, a resource for fisheries, tourism and cultural practices.

“As we know historically over geologic time we’ve had warming periods before over centuries millennia,” Richmond said.

“What we are seeing is changes over years at a time and the fear we put out in our paper says coral don’t have an opportunity to adapt under those quick time frames of increasing stressors.”

Researchers said the most impactful solutions to combating coral extinction is transitioning away from greenhouse gas-emitting and petroleum-based fuels — which are main contributors to climate change.

On a smaller scale, the group said decreasing pollution and designating marine protected areas will further help in restoring coral reefs.

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