[ASC-media] Climate Change Impacts On Reefs Are Here And Will Change What Reefs Look Like In The Future

Melissa Lyne mlyne_99 at yahoo.com
Tue Jul 10 00:46:24 CEST 2012

Press Release
For immediate release: July 10, 2012
Change Impacts On Reefs Are Here And
Change What Reefs Look Like In The Future
CAIRNS, Australia – The impacts
of a warming climate on reefs is not a future event—complex changes have already
begun that could fundamentally change what reefs look like in the future.
That was
the overarching message today from a panel of coral reef experts, who are on
the forefront of understanding the varied impacts of a rising seawater
temperatures and ocean acidification on such areas ranging from coral growth
and fish behaviour to the ability of reefs to provide fish and other services
to millions of people worldwide.
The panel
conducted a media briefing on climate change and at the International Coral
Reef Symposium, the premier coral reef conference held every four years and a
hotbed of the latest advances in coral reef science. The research and findings presented at ICRS 2012 are
fundamental in informing international and national policies and the
sustainable use of coral reefs globally.
The panel
included Janice M. Lough, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science; John M. Pandolfi, of the University of Queensland; Roberto Iglesias
Prieto, of the National
Autonomous University of México; and Philip L.
Munday, of
James Cook University.
A full video of the briefing
and each panellist’s expanded statements is available online at www.icrs2012mediaportal.com.
“Tropical coral reef waters
are already significantly warmer than they were and the rate of warming is
accelerating,” said Janice Lough. “With or without drastic curtailment of
greenhouse gas emissions we are facing, for the foreseeable future, changes in
the physical environment of present-day coral reefs.”
Lough said, over the past
century global temperatures have warmed by 0.7oC and those of the
surface tropical oceans by 0.5oC.  This raising of baseline temperatures has already resulted in widespread
coral bleaching events and outbreaks of coral diseases. Current projections
indicate that the tropical oceans could be 1-3oC warmer by the end
of this century.
Lough focuses on long-term
growth histories from massive coral skeletons. Even with the modest amount of
warming to date —compared to future projections—coral growth rates are
responding to these observed temperature changes.  Several reefs, including the Great Barrier
Reef, have witnessed slower massive coral growth in recent decades, while
cooler reef sites off Western Australia have, initially, responded by
increasing their growth rates.  The
latter is unlikely to be sustainable, given the setbacks in growth following
coral bleaching and, as temperatures continue to warm, optimum temperatures for
coral growth are exceeded, she said.
further elaborated that there is large variation in the vulnerability of coral reef
species in their response to temperature change and ocean acidification, so
some taxa may survive but others could go extinct. In addition, coral reefs
that are already degraded from human pressures, such as overfishing or
land-based pollution, will be much less likely to handle the increase in
temperature and ocean acidity.
“There will be winners and losers in climate change and
ocean acidification, but reefs will demonstrably change and, for most people's
idea of what reefs are, not for the better,” says John Pandolfi.
added that ultimately the global community must act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But new science is also showing that, given that the impact on corals will be
more variable than first realized, our management approaches must become more sophisticated,
with particular focus on reducing local threats such as overexploitation and
pollution.  Managing reefs for local
stress will ensure maximum health as they continue to confront a changing
global climate.
Munday said
changes to coral reef
habitat caused by climate change will also potentially lead to changed fish
populations. The direct impacts, which are already occurring, are reduced coral
cover and less habitat structure for fish. 
“That will mean fewer species
and lower fish abundance,” Munday said. “Some species will fair better than
others. For example, fish that eat coral will be more severely impacted, but
overall we can expect a decline in fish numbers.”
Over time, he said, more carbon
dioxide dissolved in the ocean can also cause abnormal behavior in fish leading
to reduced survival. In a recent study, Munday and his team examined the
changes to fish in tanks with artificially high levels of carbon dioxide. They
found neurological changes that resulted in fish being less effective at
avoiding predators, because of adverse impacts to their sense of smell and an increased tendency to stray further from reef
areas where they can hide. At the same time, some
fish showed, over generations, an ability to adjust to temperatures changes.
“Like coral, there will
be winners and losers and the communities of fish we see on reefs in the future
are likely to be different to those of today,” Munday said.
Iglesias-Prieto underscored that these changes will ultimately have severe
impacts on the millions of people worldwide who depend on reefs for food, income
and storm protection. Reefs also contribute to national economies through such
sectors as tourism and commercial fisheries.
“To truly understand the impacts of
climate change on reefs, you have to be an ecologist, an economist and a
political scientist,” Iglesias-Prieto said.
Melissa Lyne, Australia Media, melissa.lyne at gmail.com,+ 610415 514 328
Jackie Marks, International Media, jmarks at seaweb.org, + 61 0451 148 542
Cindy Yeast, US Media, cyeast at seaweb.org, + 1 (720) 542 9455
Visit www.icrs2012mediaportal.comfor additional information, videos of media briefings, photos
and b-roll.
Melissa Lyne 
Australia and New Zealand Media Co-ordinator
12th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS 2012)
9-13 July 2012, Cairns, Australia
P: +61 415 514 328W: www.icrs2012.com
F: http://www.facebook.com/ICRS2012
T: http://www.twitter.com/ICRS2012
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