[acn-l] FISHLINK: Scientists say global warming killing coral reefs

FISH1IFR at aol.com
Sat, 14 Nov 1998 20:33:04 EST

Posted at 11:18 a.m. PST Friday, November 13, 1998



Scientists say global warming killing coral reefs


BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Global warming is killing the world's coral reefs, and with them the swarming sea life they shelter and support, scientists said at the Buenos Aires climate talks Friday.

Vast expanses of reef have been destroyed by abnormally high 1998 sea-surface temperatures, specialists from the United States and Canada told the United Nations summit.

The reefs are limestone formations mainly produced by colonies of millions of tiny organisms known as corals, which secrete the stony material to form their exoskeletons.

``More corals have died from heat stroke this year than have died from all other human causes to date,'' said Thomas Goreau, President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance.

Some 4,000 species of reef fish and 89,000 species of invertebrates and algae have so far been identified and scientists suggest coral reefs may actually nurture up to a million species.

Their colorful pageants of sea life and the coral sand beaches that accumulate near them support a giant tourist industry and the rich fisheries they nourish provide protein, jobs, and income for developing countries.

``The biggest branches of the tree of life are in the ocean, and most life there is in coral reefs,'' said Don McAllister, a Canadian coral scientist with the World Conservation Union.

Satellites measuring the surface temperature of Earth's oceans have tracked a steady rise since 1982. Warmer seas have led many corals to ``bleach,'' turn white as the algae that feed and color them are driven out, and die.

Abnormally high 1998 sea temperatures, the warmest on record, are thought to have bleached and killed most of the corals in the Indian Ocean, and in many areas of the Western and Eastern Pacific, the scientists said.

Coral mortality has been especially high in the ecologically prized Maldives, where up to 90 percent of reefs have been laid bare, they said.

Around 170 nations have gathered at the United Nations global warming conference in Buenos Aires to discuss ways of cutting emissions of heat- trapping gases.

``Unless this conference takes immediate effective action to stop global climate change, coral reefs and the benefits they provide will be condemned to death. Other ecosystems will follow,'' the World Conservation Union said.