By Fredrica Syren:
2,000 scientists from all over the world gathered last week at a conference in Hawaii to discuss how to save the world’s precious coral reefs. These once vibrant coral reefs are now in danger of significant outbreaks of coral bleaching, and huge swaths of them are now looking like stark white ghost towns disintegrating into the sea.
The coral reefs are a globally important ecosystem, and the threat against them is earth’s warming waters. Due to the most powerful El Nino on record, the world’s oceans have been heated to never-before-seen levels. Corals turn white as they expel the symbiotic algae that normally live within them. This has led to the death of the largest patches of reefs on record.
According to Ruth Gates, president of the International Society for Reef Studies and director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, there is a need to translate this urgency in order to save the world’s reefs because marine scientists are struggling to find both the political and financial wherewithal to tackle and prevent their loss. Gates also points out the importance of scientists to make clear how the decline in reef health is intertwined with human health. Not only do the reefs provide habitat for most ocean fish consumed by humans, but they also shelter land from storm surges and rising sea levels. Furthermore, the corals have been found to have medicinal properties.
The goal of the conference in Hawaii is to find ways for scientists to work with world leaders in order to find solutions to this problem. If this fails, soon this important ecosystem will be extinct and humans will be left with the unforeseen consequences.