New report published on “Climate, Carbon and Coral Reefs”
Nagoya, Geneva, 26 October 2010 (WMO/CBD) - Coral reefs, referred to as the ‘tropical rainforests of the ocean’ are facing unprecedented threats because of climate change, including damage from increasingly severe tropical cyclones, bleaching events and ocean acidification. About 20 percent of the original area of coral reefs has been lost, with a further 25 percent threatened in the next century. Concerted international action is needed to ensure their long-term survival, according to a new report (available in English only, 32 pages).
The report “Climate, Carbon and Coral Reefs” by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) says it is vital to increase the ecological resilience of vulnerable coral reefs through a coordinated ecosystem approach. This entails partnerships among different actors, commitment and financial investment, the report says.
Tropical coral reefs cover about 0.2 percent of the world’s ocean, contain about 25 percent of marine species and are worth an estimated US$ 30 billion annually to the global economy in terms of coastline protection, tourism and food. For the past two decades coral reefs have been under siege from a growing global threat: increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“High CO2 emissions lead to ‘double trouble’ for coral reefs,’ the report says. “First, the trapping of heat in the atmosphere leads to ocean warming which can cause extensive coral bleaching events and mass mortalities. The global devastation of coral reefs from record warming of the sea surface in 1997/1998 was the first example of what is likely to occur in the future under a warming climate. Second, high CO2 levels lead to ocean acidification which reduces the ability of the coral reefs to grow and maintain their structure and function.”
“Coral reefs are some of the most species-rich habitats in the world, and they are also among the most sensitive to our current high-emission path,” said the report which was launched at the Tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-10) in Nagoya, Japan.
Marine meteorological services have traditionally delivered warnings of gales, storms, sea waves and tropical cyclones mainly in support of shipping activities. But with growing recognition of the impacts of global change on the coastal ecology, input from meteorological services is important to correctly assess the threats to coral reefs at local and regional level and to devise monitoring and adaptation strategies.
The report says makes several recommendations for future action:
- Meteorologists need to be well informed about the potential impacts of weather and climate events on coastal and coral reef ecology. Formal communication pathways should be set up with marine scientists to determine how best National Meteorological and Hydrological Services could provide relevant data and forecasts on an appropriate timescale.
- Concise summary reports on the global carbon threats, together with the ongoing regional and local disturbances to the world’s coral reefs, should be presented to policy makers and governments in a way that promotes environmental stewardship.
- Further research and investment are needed to improve the ability to assess and predict the impacts on coral reef systems of climate change and associated extreme events.
WMO has a long partnership with UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the two organizations set up the Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) in 1999 to combine their expertise. One of the outcomes of this partnership is an observing system which provides data used to develop and implement ocean forecasting and services, including those needed to monitor and protect coral reefs.
The Convention on Biological Diversity has focussed significant attention on the preservation and protection of the Earth’s valuable coral reef ecosystem and has a dedicated work plan on coral bleaching. It is working with a number of partners to try to ensure the protection of coral reefs in the face of climate change.
The new report says there should be more financial and technical development assistance for the protection of coral reef ecosystems. And it makes a number of recommendations to strengthen cross-institutional research programmes to investigate the tolerance of coral reefs to increased temperature, and the frequency and extent of coral bleaching events; and the biological and meteorological variables relevant to bleaching, mortality and recovery.
“An immediate global response to reduce anthropogenic drivers of climate change is imperative to ensure the survival of these invaluable and diverse ecosystems,” it says.
The report can be found online at the following url: http://www.wmo.int/pages/prog/wcp/agm/publications/documents/Climate_Carbon_CoralReefs.pdf
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