David Attenborough & Charlie Veron: carbon dioxide may soon make coral reefs extinct

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Increasingly acidic oceans and warming water temperatures due to carbon dioxide emissions could kill off the world’s ocean reefs by the end of this century, scientists warned on Monday.

The experts told a meeting in London the predicted pace of emissions means a level of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will be reached by 2050, putting corals on a path to extinction in the following decades.

The two dozen coral reef specialists and climate change exerts represented universities, government research offices and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” – Reuters, 6th July 2009

David Attenborough joined scientists today to warn that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already above the level which condemns coral reefs to extinction, with catastrophic effects for the oceans and the people who depend upon them.

Attenborough said the world had a “moral responsibility” to save corals. The naturalist was speaking at the Royal Society in London, following a meeting of marine biologists.

“A coral reef is the canary in the cage as far as the oceans are concerned,” said Attenborough. “They are the places where the damage is most easily and quickly seen. It is more difficult for us to see what is happening in, for example, the deep ocean or the central expanses of ocean.” – The Guardian, 6th July 2009

Charlie Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told The Times: “There is no way out, no loopholes. The Great Barrier Reef will be over within 20 years or so.”

Once carbon dioxide had hit the levels predicted for between 2030 and 2060, all coral reefs were doomed to extinction, he said. “They would be the world’s first global ecosystem to collapse. I have the backing of every coral reef scientist, every research organisation. I’ve spoken to them all. This is critical. This is reality.” – The Times, 7th July 2009

The kitchen is on fire and it’s spreading around the house,” Alex Rogers of the Zoological Society of London and the International Program on the State of the Ocean, said in a statement.

“If we act quickly and decisively we may be able to put it out before the damage becomes irreversible.” – The US Daily, 7th July 2009

The meeting was held to identify tipping points for corals and to expose the issues raised by the plight of coral reefs. A statement detailing these concerns will be submitted to the UN FCCC process currently underway.

Until now, world leaders negotiating emissions reductions have not taken the ocean into serious account, but with so much at risk, the oceans can no longer be ignored.

Now, there is every reason to believe that the oceans may in fact be the most vulnerable sector of our planet to climate change – with dire consequences for us all. – Science Daily, July 2009

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