28 Sept 2021
Landmark global report highlights the impacts of human activity on coral reefs. Data from more than 300 scientist were featured in this report, including ours!
Coral reefs across the world are under relentless stress from ocean warming and acidification caused by climate change. During the last decade, the interval between mass coral bleaching events has been insufficient to allow coral reefs to recover, although some recovery was observed in 2019 with the world’s coral reefs regaining 2% of the coral cover that was previously lost. However, ~14% of coral reefs died in a nine-year period between 2009 and 2018, a staggering loss of one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. Most of the loss can be attributed to the increasing frequency and intensity of marine heatwaves, which is a direct result of climate change.
As part of our coral reef monitoring program, we collect data on coral reef health and document changes in the abundance and health of coral reefs, as well as in the extent of which hard coral species occupy the reef substrate (a.k.a. coral cover). As collaboration is fundamentally enshrined in our operations and values, we are proud to have contributed our data to this global assessment. Similarly to global trends, coral reefs in Pulau Lang Tengah, Malaysia, seem to have declined dramatically (as judged by the large amount of dead reef substrate). However, we also observed a high degree of coral reef recovery, as average coral cover surged to 38.17% in 2021 from previously 22.26% in 2019. This surge in coral cover is almost exclusively due to the growth of coral species that naturally grow fast and die fast, such as staghorn species Acropora muricata, Acropora Florida, as well as table corals Acorpora hyacinthus and Acropora cytherea. Nonetheless, these species are initiating reef recovery by providing habitat for many of the marine life that is essential in keeping the ecosystem engine running. They also stabilize the previously degraded substrate and therefore pave the way for other corals to settle down and grow.
There is one simple take-away message from the report and our own monitoring data: it is not too late for coral reefs, if we act now with a determinant focus on reducing threats to coral reefs. First and foremost, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or else, coral reefs will soon disappear. It is on us to take action.
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