[Coral-List] CO2 risks for coral reefs

Peter Sale sale at uwindsor.ca
Wed Aug 19 12:42:16 EDT 2015

Hi list members,

I had the opportunity of giving a plenary at a big geochemistry conference on Monday (Goldschmidt 2015, Prague), and used it to say something topical re our impacts on coral reefs.  Specifically, I provided evidence that warming and acidification were already impacting reefs to a significant extent, increasing coral mortality rates and reducing capacity to grow and repair, and I reported on the loss of live coral cover on the GBR and in the Caribbean since the mid-1970s (from all stresses combined).

I stated (this is not new, but it bears regular repeating) that even if COP21 in Paris this December is wildly successful and the countries sign onto and implement a treaty which cuts emissions sufficient to limit total average warming to +2 degrees since pre-industrial times (the Copenhagen target), that will not be sufficient to allow coral reefs to continue to exist.  They will continue to degrade as warming and acidification will both increase through end of the century, and (in my opinion) by mid-century reefs of the quality that existed in the mid-1960s when I first started enjoying doing research on them, will no longer exist.  Instead we will have algae-dominated, rubble-strewn, slowly eroding limestone benches bearing a thin scatter of coral colonies eaking out a poor existence.

I argued (again this is not new) that we need 1) a more aggressive attack on CO2 emissions, with a goal of reducing CO2 to 350ppm in the atmosphere (which conforms to about a 1 degree rise in temperatures since pre-industrial times), and 2) a much more effective effort to address all those other, locally acting impacts on reefs -- things like overfishing and pollution -- that we have known about and talked about for decades, yet have been remarkably ineffective in dealing with in most locations until now.  For a start, if every group 'managing' an MPA would commit immediately to real effort to implement the management strategies already on paper that would be a good start.

There has been some take-up in the media, so for those of you interested in pushing coral reef conservation, now might be a good time to blog, tweet, e-mail, or even write letters on paper to newspapers.  At the very least, we might be able to push the Paris process a little closer to a real solution than the responses of countries (such as my own) so far suggest will happen.

Peter Sale

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