Coral Reefs Losing Ability to Keep Pace

with Sea-level Rise 

June 13th, 2018 

 

Many coral reefs will be unable to keep growing fast enough to keep up with predicted rising sea levels, leaving tropical coastlines and low-lying islands exposed to increasing erosion and flooding risk, new research suggests.

 

NOAA contributed to a study published in the journal Nature that compared the maximum upward growth rates of coral reefs with predicted rates of sea-level rise and found many reefs will be unable to keep pace.

 

The researchers calculated growth rates for more than 200 Tropical Western Atlantic and Indian Ocean coral reefs. Current coral cover in the Western Atlantic averages 21%, which has allowed coral reefs to keep pace with sea level to date.  However, given the acceleration of sea level rise, 21% coral cover is far below that needed for coral reefs to keep up in the future.

 

The growth of coral reefs is strongly influenced by the amount and types of coral living on the reef surface. This growth is now hampered by combinations of coral disease, deteriorating water quality and fishing pressure, along with severe impacts from coral bleaching caused by increasingly warm waters.

 

Ian Enochs, a co-author from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, described the impact of increased water levels for corals. “Reef-building corals contain symbiotic algae and require light to grow,” said Enochs. “Ever increasing water depths decrease the availability of that light and lessen a coral's ability to grow and thrive.”

 

Without sustained ecological recovery, projected rates of sea level rise will outpace the growth rates of many reef-building corals in the western Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

 

Photograph of mass coral bleaching at NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program long-term monitoring site at Cheeca Rocks in September 2014 during the first year of back-to-back bleaching events.

Photograph of mass coral bleaching at NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program long-term monitoring site at Cheeca Rocks in September 2014 during the first year of back-to-back bleaching events.

 

 

 Photograph showing coral bleaching and disease at NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program long-term monitoring site at Cheeca Rocks in September 2014.  Coral bleaching and disease have been major drivers of coral reef decline in the tropical western Atlantic.

Photograph showing coral bleaching and disease at NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program long-term monitoring site at Cheeca Rocks in September 2014.  Coral bleaching and disease have been major drivers of coral reef decline in the tropical western Atlantic.

 

 

Image of diseased brain coral at NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program long-term monitoring site at Cheeca Rocksin April 2018.  A coral disease outbreak has been affecting south Florida's coral reefs since 2014.  Coral disease and bleaching have been a major driver of coral reef decline in the tropical western Atlantic.

 Image of diseased brain coral at NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program long-term monitoring site at Cheeca Rocks in April 2018.  A coral disease outbreak has been affecting south Florida's coral reefs since 2014.  Coral disease and bleaching have been a major driver of coral reef decline in the tropical western Atlantic.


For more information, please contact AOML Communications at 305-361-4541 or by email at aoml.communications@noaa.gov


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