October 20th, 2010
02:51 PM ET

Scientist: 'Human-induced global warming' killing corals

Reefs on Sumatra, Indonesia, on May 31, 2010 show the effects of bleaching.

Coral reefs are dying around the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia at rates that may be the worst ever recorded, scientists said this week.

Death rates as high as 80 percent have been recorded for some species, according to the study performed by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“It is certainly the worst coral die-off we have seen since 1998. It may prove to be the worst such event known to science,” said Andrew Baird, a principal research fellow for James Cook University in Australia.

The coral bleaching extends from the Seychelles in the middle of the Indian Ocean to the Philippines in Southeast Asia and encompasses much of the Coral Triangle, an area scientists refer to as the “Amazon rainforest of the seas” or the most diverse marine ecosystem on Earth.

A mass of abnormally hot water which moved into the Indian Ocean several months ago is behind the bleaching, according to the ARC report. The hot water caused the corals to shed microscopic algae which help nourish them. The algae also give color to the corals, so when the algae are gone, the corals starve and appear white or bleached.

Dive operators reported water temperatures were 4 degrees Centigrade higher than average during the die-off, according to the ARC report.

The scientists said coral coverage in the affected areas could drop from 50 percent to 10 percent, hurting fishing and tourist industries over the long term as dead reefs support less marine life than live ones. And with that loss of diversity, they attract fewer fishermen and fewer divers.

“While it may take up to two years for some fish species to be affected by the loss of coral habitat, fisheries yields will decline and this combined with a drop in the number of scuba divers visiting could have major long-term effects on the local economy,” Baird said in a statement.

Baird blamed “human-induced global warming” for the decline of the corals and said action must be taken to reduce carbon emissions that help retain heat in the atmosphere.

“This is not just about warmer temperatures: it is also threatening the livelihoods of tens of millions of people and potentially the stability of our region,” Baird said in a statement.

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soundoff (190 Responses)
  1. Ryan

    It's true that the climate of the earth has been constantly changing for millions of years. But its also true that 2000 years ago there were around 300 million humans, now that number has exceeded +7 billion, in the end we are all competing for the limited amount of resources the earth provides. The news of coral reefs, seafood prices and environmental issues, just shows how much our existence stresses the Earth. Investment in space programs would be choice, seeing how crowded the earth has become.

    October 26, 2010 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ryan

    Otherwise, we would have to fight against each other for resources... WW1 and WW2 were wars over diplomatic ideals, future wars will be over food, land, and water. Back to lifestyle of primitive man...

    October 26, 2010 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  3. Ian

    What ever the arguments are about global warming, one thing is undeniable... we are taking too much of earth's resources and polluting too much. Even if global warming does not happen, we are on a path to destruction with the way we consume. If you have ever lived in a pristine environment and see it vanish, you'll know what I mean. Even if global warming is halted, who wants to breath polluted air, eat mercury laced fish, see whole forests destroyed along with its animals?

    We live in a circle of life, what we do affects everything on this planet. If you ever told your parents that taking science and history in school is useless because you were going to become an accountant... well knowing those subjects may save our lives. Even a high school education will give you a basic understanding of cause and effect in nature. When you go to the voting both to elect a candidate to office and know nothing about his stance on the environment and its effects... mind as well not vote at all. A democracy only works if we have educated voters, just as communism would've worked if everyone is honest. If you goofed off during science classes or are too lazy to read up about the issues, then trust the people that we pay to understand such matters. If you don't trust the internet, then there is a place called a library that contain far more accurate information... if you care to let your feet do the walking and not your fingers. Would you be willing to take science courses to understand the science so you can vote knowledgeably?

    It is hard for most us to delve into such matters when we have so much obligations in work, family, friends, leisure... but if you take just a few hours and read about what is going on with our environment... you'll be shell shocked and want to go into denial. It is sad that no one seams to realize that the only way to save our floundering economy is by going green... it'll take a major upheaval in our economy but what choices do we have? For what we have spent on the two wars, we could've placed solar panels on every roof in America... if we have done it decades ago, we wouldn't have to support dictatorial governments in the middle east for their cheap oil... which is the root of all our terrorist problems.

    For the lack of a better phrase: "Wake up and smell the coffee" America. We are the most reactionary society in world, we only react when the situation gets to be very dire... let's hope we don't act too late to save ourselves from us.

    October 26, 2010 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
  4. reality

    Climate change is happening. Those who deny it are almost beyond reason, as they bought the Petroleum / coal / Political propaganda lock ,stock and barrel. Go observe. Draw your own conclusions. I seriously doubt the naysayers have the courage to face the fact that life as we know it is changing, and it will be very painful and expensive to try to adapt to on the fly.

    October 26, 2010 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ryan

    yes awareness must be spread and actions must be done, i don't want my kids growing up in a barren wasteland or sent to some war and die not knowing the joys of parenthood or success

    October 26, 2010 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
  6. Fred Magyar

    FunRec wrote:

    @ all deniers
    after diving for more then 20 years thru indian ocean & pacific one can SEE by himself the big changes that are occuring in the marine system.. As european its difficult for me to read so many brainless comments to a disaster which is REALLY going on!

    I've been diving for over 35 years and now live in South Florida and still dive, unfortunately I can confirm what FunRec says. Whether you accept anthropogenic climate change as the cause, the reality is TSHTF all over the world's coral reefs! I've seen the devastation with my own eyes and didn't get paid a cent to report it! Go see it for yourselves you blooming idiots who insist it isn't happening!

    Deniers are pathetically ignorant fools who don't understand basic chemistry and physics or they are pathologically delusional ideologues. Probably both.

    October 26, 2010 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  7. GlobalWarmingIsNatural

    Don't worry. After humans kill themeselves off from overpopulating, the Earth will return to normal conditions within 10,000 years. On a geological timeline, that's the equivalent to a blink of the eye. The Earth itself is amazingly resilient and able to reverse virtually any damage humans could cause. Our species should be more concerned about it's own existance in the long term or it will perish.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. scrutinizer

    I understand coral reefs cover approximately one-tenth of 1 percent of the ocean's sea floor. Many areas along the ocean shores have no coral at all and there are many species that live there. However, there are cold-water corals, shallow water tropical corals and deep sea corals. The cold water corals are getting weaker and warm water corals are getter bleached. How is the ocean increasing in acid? Apparently increasing CO2 levels initiates that. I thought there are ocean plants who breathe in CO2 and give out oxygen, and plants on the land doing the same.

    October 27, 2010 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. Daniel Curran

    Noted & signed.

    October 27, 2010 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
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