Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Coral reefs have no time to recover

Coral reefs have no time to recover
08 Jan
2018
Coral bleaching is widespread around the globe and as it becomes an increasingly frequently occurrence, our ocean’s reefs are heading towards a point of no return

‘In the 1980s, the gap was 25 years. Before then, mass bleaching didn’t occur,’ says professor Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. ‘The average gap between two consecutive bleaching events since 2010 (up to 2016) is 5.9 years. But some reefs have bleached three times in that period.’

Coral bleaching occurs when stressful conditions result in the expulsion of the algae from the coral. These stressful conditions usually relate to above average sea water temperature caused by global warming.

Before human driven climate change, these events were relatively rare, which allowed the reef time to recover between events, but as Hughes’ has discovered, the interval between damaging events is dropping at an alarming rate.

‘Since mass bleaching began in the 1980s, the Caribbean region has accumulated the most events, mainly because it warmed up sooner,’ he says. ‘In the Indo-Pacific, locations that have experienced more than five severe bleaching events are well scattered.’

The ARC study looked at 100 reefs globally and found that the average interval between bleaching events is now less than half of what it was before. In addition, warming events such as El Niño are becoming more severe than previously recorded.

These changes are likely to make it more and more difficult for reefs to recover between stressful events, and Hughes believes the situation is becoming critical. ‘If global warming and business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to continue, reefs as we know them will be destroyed,’ he warns. ‘The COP21 Paris Agreement provides a way forward that could save reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems, but there’s no time to lose.’

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Around 75 million birds are kept as pets in Indonesia,…

Wildlife

Migratory animals are actively adjusting their traditions to cope with…

Climate

How many trees can you plant in a day?

Polar

New analysis of NASA data has led to the discovery…

Climate

Naomi Klein is back and calling for a new world…

Geophoto

The move away from film has meant more pictures being…

Oceans

As the ocean looks set to get busier due to…

Climate

A report details how tropical storms are fuelling the rise…

Wildlife

After years of trials, talks, tweaks and test runs, EarthRanger…

Climate

Nationalism might gain political points in certain parts of the…

Geophoto

With guaranteed sunshine, bright blue skies and not a hint…

Oceans

A review of coral-saving methods is helping communities decide which…

Polar

A seven-year study of Patagonia’s ice sheets has revealed the…

Climate

The environmental impact of Bitcoin is higher than its virtual…

Geophoto

With a camera in everyone’s pocket, the once rarified world…

Climate

The idea of the Earth as a self-regulating, living organism…

Oceans

A temporary fishing ban has been imposed by the European…

Wildlife

A look at the contribution of hippos to the savannah…

Wildlife

The new app encourages young children to connect with the…