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Coral: Going, Going, GONE?

Why we should care - Alas, more bad news: Coral reefs are turning white and dying. This not only bad for the fish that depend on them, it's bad for humans: The resulting lost in tourism could cost millions of dollars. A single large coral reef can be worth between $130,000 to $1.2 million a year to the country it's part of.

With technology similar to that used by physicians to perform MRI scans, researchers are studying the metabolic activity of a pathogen shown to cause coral bleaching, a serious threat to undersea reef ecosystems worldwide. This bacteria is temperature dependent, causing bleaching at temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. These findings have raised concerns that increasing ocean temperatures due to climate change may lead to increased risk of widespread coral bleaching. During the past two decades, it has been reported that nearly 30% percent of the world's coral reefs have been severely degraded by bleaching.

In New Scientist, Shanta Barley quotes economist Pavan Sukhdev as saying, "The entire ecosystem is on the point of collapse. Unless negotiators in Copenhagen (at the UN climate talks in December) agree to limit atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, they will sentence the world's coral reefs to death." Politicians are currently hoping to limit carbon dioxide emissions to 450 parts per million, so "frankly, it does look pretty bleak."

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