Corals build the reef structure and provide the basis for a functioning coral reef ecosystem. Without corals, reefs will degrade and vanish within years. At present, coral reefs are facing multiple stresses such as pollution, overfishing, and, overall, the ongoing climate change―consequently raising sea water temperatures and causing coral bleaching worldwide (Coral Bleaching background). As a result, over 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs have died in the last 30 years and up to 90 percent may die within the next century—very few pristine coral reefs still exist (ICRI, NOAA, Reefbase, The Ocean Agency, Status Report).
The impact of our changing climate on coral reefs (ISRS Statement) was manifested by the third global bleaching event in 2015/16 (NOAA news). This event has caused a mass die-off of corals; for example along the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, there is a clear pattern of severe bleaching events increasing in frequency, to a point where there is now inadequate intervals for corals to recover in between (Science Magazine, Washington Post).
A world without corals means not only will we have a less diverse and less beautiful ocean, but it will also be an economic disaster for many people—predominantly in developing countries. Fisheries and tourism provide important livelihoods that directly depend on healthy coral reefs. Reefs are nurseries for many fish species, including commercial ones, and attract millions of tourists every year. Coral reefs offer natural coastal protection, especially in areas frequently impacted by hurricanes and tropical storms. The great biodiversity of coral reefs serves as an important source for new medicinal remedies.
Altogether, coral reefs comprise an area of almost 300 000 km² and are estimated to have an economic value of US$100 000 - 600 000 per km² (UNEP report, 2006), thus providing one of the most high-value ecosystems. Coral reefs are among the most complex ecosystems and are revealing the degraded status of coastal environments. Their alarming status represents the poor health of our oceans and if coral reefs disappear other marine realms will follow.
Corals have existed for more than 400 million years; yet stresses and changes from human activities are happening faster than their ability to adapt. Corals may not survive the intensity and swiftness of these ongoing changes. A matter of vital importance is sexual reproduction of corals; as it is for most species. Sexual reproduction maintains genetic diversity and, in turn, enables species to adapt to a naturally dynamic environment in the long-term. Corals under stress are likely to stop sexual reproduction, which puts their survival at risk. SECORE is working to give coral reefs a future.