Islanders threatened by coral destruction

A A A

Marine biologists have issued their sternest warning yet about the parlous state of the world's coral reefs and say their destruction could lead to an unprecedented migration of island-dwellers whose homes and livelihoods are in danger of being washed away.

Marine biologists have issued their sternest warning yet about the parlous state of the world's coral reefs and say their destruction could lead to an unprecedented migration of island-dwellers whose homes and livelihoods are in danger of being washed away.

Some governments are now so concerned about the consequences of losing up to half of the world's coral reefs over the next 25 years that they are preparing contingency plans to move millions of people to neighbouring countries.

Warmer sea temperatures, pollution and overfishing are being blamed for the destruction of coral, which acts as an important barrier against the erosion of island coastlines that are already under threat from rising sea levels because of global warming.

Some predictions suggest that rising sea levels will begin to have an impact on low-lying island nations within the next 50 to 100 years, although some scientists believe that the rate of coral destruction and coastal erosion will make this a reality within 30 years.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist from the University of Queensland, who has written a report on coral destruction in the western Pacific, said at least three million people from the islands of Tuvalu and Kiribati might have to be relocated to Australia and New Zealand.

"I know that the Australian government is taking this very seriously and that the US State Department is also worried about the long-term socio-economic consequences of these population shifts," Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.

About 1,500 of the world's leading marine biologists are meeting this week at an international symposium about coral reefs in Bali, Indonesia, where scientists made pessimistic forecasts about the future of coral, which is seen as the undersea version of tropical rainforest; both are rich in wildlife but easily destroyed.

One assessment says that between 50 and 90 per cent of the coral reefs stretching from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of India, including the Maldives and the Seychelles, are now dead or dying.

"There is a very good probability that coral reefs as we know them now will be gone in 30 to 50 years," said Professor Hoegh-Guldberg, who calculates that 26 per cent of the world's coral reefs have already been destroyed.

One of the main problems was identified two years ago when huge tracts of coral suffered "bleaching", whereby the coral organism expels the brightly coloured algae that lives symbiotically in the coral's limestone "skeleton".

The bleaching effect came after one of the most severe El Niño events in recent times when a warm Pacific Ocean current flowing west to east suddenly went into reverse, causing dramatic changes in local climates.

Research published this week in the journal Nature shows that coral growth is intimately connected with El Niño events, which are themselves strongly influenced by average sea temperatures.

Scientists from the University of Colorado studied coral cores drilled from a Pacific atoll that dated back 155 years. They found that the annual coral growth patterns showed sea temperatures became slowly warmer in the first part of the 20th century but underwent a dramatic temperature increase around 1976 and 1977.

El Niño events during the past 25 years have also become stronger and are known to act as powerful forces for the distribution of heat throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans, where much of the coral destruction has taken place.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said:"There is no way to explain this coral death event [other] than by global warming... all the marine scientists I know are now really scared by this evidence."

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory