Coral Reefs Disappearing Twice As Fast As Rainforests


Corals in the central and western Pacific Ocean are dying faster than previously thought. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have found nearly 600 square miles of reef have disappeared per year since the late 1960s, twice the rate of rainforest loss. The reefs are now disappearing at a rate of one percent per year, a decline that began decades earlier than expected. Historically, coral cover, a measure of reef health, hovered around 50 percent. Today, only about 2 percent of reefs in the Indo-Pacific have coral cover close to the historical baseline. “We have already lost half of the world’s reef-building corals,” said John Bruno, author of the study published in the online journal PLoS One. The Indo-Pacific contains 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs and has the highest coral diversity in the world.

One of the most surprising results of the study was that coral cover was similar between reefs maintained by conservationists and unprotected reefs. This consistent pattern of decline across the entire Indo-Pacific indicates that coral loss is a global phenomenon, likely due in part to large-scale stressors such as climate change. . . Check out this video from the Philippines to see how climate change is adding to their reef problems. JULIA WHITTY

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.