Caribbean Coral Reefs Could Face Extinction Due to an Increase in Ocean and Atmospheric Temperatures.

Caribbean coral reefs could be at risk of extinction due to rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures

Due to rising global temperatures, vibrant coral reefs populated by marine life are shrinking in the Caribbean. Coral reefs are habitats that help the seafood industry, are barriers for coastal communities against storms, floods and rising sea levels, and are known to be great tourist attractions.

Coral reefs could be threatened with extinction within the next 80 years, or by the end of this century, if atmospheric and ocean temperatures continue to rise at the current rate, according to new research from the assistant professor of the Department of LSU Oceanography and Coastal Science, Dan Holstein. Image Credit: Dan Holstein, LSU

Their net economic worth across the world has been valued in the tens of billions of dollars. But if atmospheric and ocean temperatures continue to rise at the current rate, coral reefs will be threatened with extinction within the next eight decades, or even at the end of this era.

Whole reefs I used to dive and snorkel on have disappeared. There are species that you no longer see on the reef. Change is happening now.

Dan Holstein, Assistant Professor, Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University

Holstein and his collaborators have developed a new open-source computer model that is the first to predict how warming seas will destabilize coral populations in the western Atlantic. This includes the Bahamas, Florida Keys and the Caribbean.

Using current projections of ocean warming, the model calculates how coral populations will sustain and thrive, or begin to perish, as ocean temperatures rise.

This model predicts that warming oceans will reduce the ability of migrating coral larvae to replenish bleached and dead reefs. The model does not seal the fate of coral reefs, but it is a big wake-up callsaid Holstein.

The study was published in the journal Coral reefs.

As the ocean tends to warm, it has the potential to destabilize marine ecosystems, leading to imbalances similar to the temperature and weather extremes experienced on land.

Heat stress is not the only problem corals face, but it is considered the most important. And the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere is something we can decide. We can actually do something about it.

Dan Holstein, Assistant Professor, Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University

Corals are known as marine animals that depend on a healthy symbiotic relationship with microscopic sea algae to live. Algae live in the tissues of the coral and generate sugars for the coral through photosynthesis.

But when the ocean gets too warm, this symbiotic relationship breaks down, leading to a phenomenon known as coral bleaching, and eventually the coral can starve.

The Holstein model analyzes the flexibility of connections between coral populations and predicted temperature changes in the Caribbean.

Connectivity of coral reefs through sexual reproduction and planktonic larvae remains a critical process to follow during climate changesaid co-author Claire Paris, a professor at the Rosenstiel School at the University of Miami.

The new model uses connectivity information derived from the open source connectivity modeling system developed by Paris.

Despite indicating a disastrous outcome for coral reefs and in particular for the widespread but endangered boulder star coral used in the model given the current trajectory, Holstein does not believe that coral reef extinction is inevitable.

It is possible for consumers and decision-makers to alter the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Moreover, the countries most at stake – those that are the biggest carbon emitters – are required to work collectively to reverse the trend.

Managing coral reefs and mitigating this dire future requires cooperation across boundaries and spatial scales to manage critical habitat. This is one of the obvious conclusions. If we don’t, all our efforts risk being ineffective..

Dan Holstein, Assistant Professor, Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University

Journal reference:

Holstein, Deputy Minister, et al. (2022) Predicting coral metapopulation decline in a changing thermal environment. Coral reefs. doi.org/10.1007/s00338-022-02252-9.

Source: https://www.lsuhsc.edu/

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