Largest coral reef study offers hope amid climate change destruction

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as multiple partners, has published a new report titled "The Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2020." This is, according to the scientific agency, the latest analysis of coral reef health across the globe ever published, revealing that while rising sea temperatures remain a problem, there is hope.

Climate change has resulted in rising ocean temperatures, triggering the loss of corals that threatens the wider marine ecosystem. According to the new report, around 14-percent of corals around the globe have been lost since 2009 as a consequence of human activities, including ones that are fueling climate change.

The data behind this new analysis was collected over four decades across 73 countries and 12,000 different coral reef sites. The results are the work of more than 300 scientists and around 2 million observations, the agency revealed.

A decrease in water quality, as well as increasingly unsustainable coastal development and overfishing, are cited as factors that strain coral reef health, driving losses that could lead to "catastrophic" environmental impacts. The scientists explain that while only a very tiny percentage of the ocean contains corals, these reefs are vital to around a quarter or more of all marine life.

The report isn't all bad news, however, with the analysis finding that some corals are resilient against the impact of human activity and climate change. Assuming "immediate steps" are taken to protect these corals by addressing greenhouse emissions, the scientists found that many of the reefs will be able to recover — assuming the conditions are improved to promote, rather than damage, their health.

Mass bleaching events are the single biggest threat to the world's corals, according to the agency. The analysis reveals that some places have been hit harder by this issue than others, particularly Japan, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean. The loss of 14-percent of global reefs from 2009 to 2018 amounts to approximately 11,700 square kilometers.

In a statement about the findings, Australian Institute of Marine Science CEO Dr. Paul Hardisty said:

This study is the most detailed analysis to date on the state of the world's coral reefs, and the news is mixed. There are clearly unsettling trends toward coral loss, and we can expect these to continue as warming persists. Despite this, some reefs have shown a remarkable ability to bounce back, which offers hope for the future recovery of degraded reefs. A clear message from the study is that climate change is the biggest threat to the world's reefs, and we must all do our part by urgently curbing global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating local pressures.