Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Global and local threats to coral reef functioning and existence: review and predictions

Marine and Freshwater Research 50(8) 867 - 878
Published: 1999


Factors causing global degradation of coral reefs are examined briefly as a basis for predicting the likely consequences of increases in these factors. The earlier consensus was that widespread but localized damage from natural factors such as storms, and direct anthropogenic effects such as increased sedimentation, pollution and exploitation, posed the largest immediate threat to coral reefs. Now truly global factors associated with accelerating Global Climate Change are either damaging coral reefs or have the potential to inflict greater damage in the immediate future: e.g. increases in coral bleaching and mortality, and reductions in coral calcification due to changes in sea-water chemistry with increasing carbon dioxide concentrations. Rises in sea level will probably disrupt human communities and their cultures by making coral cays uninhabitable, whereas coral reefs will sustain minimal damage from the rise in sea level. The short-term (decades) prognosis is indeed grim, with major reductions almost certain in the extent and biodiversity of coral reefs, and severe disruptions to cultures and economies dependent on reef resources. The long-term (centuries to millennia) prognosis is more encouraging because coral reefs have remarkable resilience to severe disruption and will probably show this resilience in the future when climate changes either stabilize or reverse.

© CSIRO 1999

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