The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that if there aren’t drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the Caribbean and other places around the globe could lose coral reefs by the end of the century.
Caribbean countries like the BVI rely on coral reefs for food, tourism and the protection of coastlines.
In its report title ‘Projections of Future Coral Bleaching Conditions’, UNEP said the loss of coral reefs is linked to rising global temperatures which causes coral bleaching.
“When water temperatures rise, corals expel the vibrant microscopic algae living in their tissues,” UNEP said.
This phenomenon is called coral bleaching – and although bleached corals are still alive, they can recover their algae, if conditions improve.
“However, the loss puts them under increased stressed, and if the bleaching persists, the corals die,” UNEP warned.
It said the last global bleaching event started in 2014 and extended well into 2017.
UNEP said it spread across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, and was “the longest, most pervasive and destructive coral bleaching incident ever recorded”.
“Humanity must act with evidence-based urgency, ambition, and innovation to change the trajectory for this ecosystem, which is the canary in the coal mine for climate’s impact on oceans before it’s too late,” said Leticia Carvalho, head of UNEP’s Marine and Freshwater Branch.
If serious action isn’t taken, the UNEP projects that every one of the world’s reefs will bleach by the end of the century, with annual severe bleaching occurring on average by 2034, nine years ahead of predictions published three years ago.
“This would mark the point of no return for reefs, compromising their ability to supply a range of ecosystem services, including food, coastal protection, medicines, and recreation opportunities,” the report warns.
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