According to Mark Eakin, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator, and 17 fellow coral scientists, the impact of global warming on sea temperatures along with acidification resulting from CO2 emissions may cause ocean coral to disappear over the next 50 to 75 years.
The group’s findings were published in December 2007 in the journal Science. Their predictions warn that the death of coral reefs will have a devastating impact on biodiversity and it will affect the economics of the communities dependant on them.
The scientists are members of the international Coral Reef Targeted Research and Capacity Building for Management Program. They argue that “rising carbon dioxide emissions represent an ‘irreducible risk’ that will rapidly outstrip the capacity of local coastal managers and policy makers to maintain the health of these critical ecosystems, if carbon dioxide emissions are allowed to continue unchecked.” The loss of coral will not only mean the devastation of related ecosystems, it will also expose coastal populations to increased flooding and affect local economics through the loss of fisheries and tourism.
While there is little NOAA can do to directly impact global carbon dioxide emissions and their effects on coral reef in other countries, the agency recently proposed extending the Endangered Species Act to include the threatened elkhorn and staghorn corals. NOAA scientists estimate that 90 percent of these corals have been lost due to rising sea temperatures, disease and storm damage. According to Roy Crabtree, NOAA Fisheries Southeast regional administrator, “these were the most dominant and important coral species on Florida and Caribbean reefs.” The proposed rule would prohibit the taking, trading, and commercial sale of elkhorn and staghorn corals. Other prohibited activities include anchoring or grounding a vessel on the coral, dragging fishing gear on the species, removing or altering the coral’s habitat; or discharging any pollutant or contaminant.
The public can comment on the proposed rule, which is available at sero.nmfs.noaa.gov or by contacting NOAA’s Jennifer Moore at jennifer.moore @noaa.gov.