Researchers at Lancaster University say the window to save the world’s coral reefs is rapidly closing.
The world’s reefs are under siege from global warming, according to a novel study published in the prestigious journal, Science.
For the first time, an international team of researchers – including Lancaster University – has measured the escalating rate of coral bleaching at locations throughout the tropics over the past four decades.
The study documents a dramatic shortening of the gap between pairs of bleaching events, threatening the future existence of these iconic ecosystems and the livelihoods of many millions of people.
“Coral bleaching is a stress response caused by exposure of coral reefs to elevated ocean temperatures,” said co-author of the study, Professor Nick Graham of Lancaster University.
“When bleaching is severe and prolonged, many of the corals die. It takes at least a decade to replace even the fastest-growing species.
“Reefs have entered a distinctive human-dominated era – the Anthropocene.
“The climate has warmed rapidly in the past 50 years, first making El Niños dangerous for corals, and now we’re seeing the emergence of bleaching in every hot summer.”
The researchers show that tropical sea temperatures are warmer today during cooler than average La Niña conditions than they were 40 years ago.
For example, the Great Barrier Reef has now bleached four times since 1998, including for the first time during back-to-back events in 2016 and 2017, causing unprecedented damage.