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Small Window To Save Reefs, Australian Study Finds

A James Cook University study shows there is only a small window of chance to reduce the impact of carbon emissions on coral reefs

TOWNSVILLE, Australia — The time to strike is now for healthy coral reefs worldwide as a new study by Australia’s James Cook University highlights the threat posed by carbon dioxide emissions.

New research by James Cook University, based in the north-eastern state of Queensland, indicates there is a small window of opportunity to reduce the impact emissions cause and shows how warmer waters and ocean acidification can stunt the growth of coral reefs.

The research examines how interactions between diverse communities of organisms responsible for maintaining present-day coral reefs will likely change reef structures in the future.

The study was calculated under three different climate change carbon dioxide scenarios — low, medium and worst-case.

Findings suggest that under a medium emissions scenario, some reefs may keep pace with sea-level rise by growing — but only for a short while.

James Cook University research examines how interactions between diverse communities of organisms responsible for maintaining present-day coral reefs will likely change reef structures in the future. (James Cook Uni @jcu/Twitter)

The projections show that even under the low-impact case, reefs will suffer severely reduced growth, or accretion rates.

Co-author, Morgan Pratchett says significant action is required to reduce the impact carbon dioxide emissions have.

“The threat posed to coral reefs by climate change is already very apparent, based on recurrent episodes of mass coral bleaching,” Pratchett said.

“But changing environmental conditions will have other far-reaching consequences.

“Saving coral reefs requires immediate and drastic reductions in global carbon emissions.”

His colleague Scott Smithers says that by the year 2100 reefs worldwide could face crippling scenarios under intermediate impact projections.

“All reefs around the world will be eroding by the end of the century under the intermediate scenario,” Smithers said.

Tropical fish swim along the edges of a coral reef off Great Keppel Island, Queensland. (Dan Peled/AAP Image)

“This will obviously have serious implications for reefs, reef islands, as well as the people and other organisms depending upon coral reefs.”

The study by James Cook University gives broader projections of ocean warming and acidification, including their interactions on the carbonate production of coral reefs.

The effect of warming oceans brings more marine heatwaves which then causes mass coral bleaching.

Ocean acidification affects the ability of calcifying corals to form their calcium carbonate skeletons, with warming waters also reducing calcification.

Data from the study came from the world’s largest oceans and was measured from 233 locations across 183 distinct reefs.

The data was then modeled against three climate change emissions scenarios for low, medium and high-impact outcomes on ocean warming and acidification for 2050 and 2100.

This international study was introduced at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies whose head office is at the James Cook University (JCU).

(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Nikita Nikhil)

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