New study to investigate demise of coral reef ecosystems

07/30/04

Scientists are embarking on a project which will explore how global warming is devastating one of the world's most diverse ecosystems.

One sixth of the world's coral reefs died due to bleaching in 1998, and the situation is getting worse. Bleaching occurs when tropical seas heat up above there normal maximums, killing the corals.

These events are equally catastrophic for the quarter of all known marine species which make their home in the reefs and for the coastal communities which depend on them for their livelihoods.

Scientists at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK will lead the new project, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. They will collaborate with colleagues in the World Conservation Society and others in the West Indian Ocean region and the Australian Institute of Marine Science on the Great Barrier Reef.

Coral reefs cover around 300,000 square kilometres worldwide. The research team will examine the ecosystem consequences of bleaching, particularly on reef fish assemblages over five to 15 year time scales at sites in the Western Indian Ocean (including the Seychelles, Kenya and Sri Lanka), and Australia.

The project will conclude with a large-scale analysis of results in order to gauge changes occurring across whole regions as a result of substantial bleaching events. It will be one of the only studies to look at the effects of bleaching over the medium to long-term and the first at such large scale.

Project leader, Dr. Nicholas Polunin, of Newcastle University's School of Marine Science and Technology, said: "Coral bleaching is predicted to increase in frequency in the coming decades and a recent investigation at one location in Papua New Guinea has indicated that this may have very great impacts on associated fishes and thus the wider reef ecosystem.

"This study will assess whether or not this holds across two major coral reef regions of the globe, with clear implications for the future of one of the world's most biodiverse ecosystems."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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