Coral reefs within US waters are unlikely to last more than a few decades more, at the most, going by many recent comments from researchers in the field. On that subject, new research has made it clear that the strict conservation measures currently being employed in some parts of Hawaii have not protected coral reefs there from rising sea temperatures.
In relation to this work, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting coral bleaching events off of Florida and Hawaii this year.
“I’m concerned because we could very well see bleaching return to Florida, parts of the Caribbean and Hawaii,” commented Mark Eakin of NOAA. “It won’t be as severe as 2015, but we’ve now moved into a general pattern where warmer than normal temperatures are the new normal. US reefs have taken a severe beating. We are looking at the loss or at least severe degradation of most reefs in the the coming decades.”
As we’ve reported numerous times in recent years, this is an issue facing essentially all of the coral reefs of the world — with the severe coral bleaching witnessed along the Great Barrier Reef in recent years being a clear harbinger of what’s to come.
“The idea we will sustain reefs in the US 100 years from now is pure imagination. At the current rate it will be just 20 or 30 years, it’s just a question of time,” commented Kim Cobb, an oceanographer at Georgia Tech. “The overall health of reefs will be severely compromised by the mid-point of the century and we are already seeing the first steps in that process.”
“As scientists we are breathlessly trying to catch up,” continued Cobb. “Things started to run away from us around 10 years ago but we were perhaps a little naive in not realizing that.”
Climate Central provides more on the situation in Hawaii: “In 2014 and 2015, Hawaii’s coral reefs suffered up to 90% bleaching, with some areas losing half of their coral cover. New research now shows that even one of the most protected parts of the Hawaiian coast was ravaged by coral bleaching.
“Surveys of the Hanauma Bay nature preserve, a protected enclave on Oahu where fishing is banned, found 47% of the area’s corals experienced bleaching on average, with nearly 10% dying. Hanauma Bay is popular with tourists, with around 3,000 visitors each day, but the research stressed that the heat of the ocean rather than direct human interference caused the coral loss.”
Cobb continued, discussing the Hawaii research: “This is another data point on the staggering breadth of damage across the global oceans. You can run but you can’t hide from the train wreck that is coming. The recent bleaching has been a brush with death and shows that this fatal stress is upon us.”
It should probably be stated very clearly here even if industrial civilization were to grind to a halt right now, and annual greenhouse gas emissions were to concurrently fall by a vast amount, that the fate of the world’s current coral reefs are pretty much already sealed.
Temperatures will continue rising for some time now, regardless of continued greenhouse gas emissions (with or without dangerous positive feedback loops such as large-scale methane release coming into play). What continually rising greenhouse gas emissions will bring, however, are temperatures that rise to a degree and at a pace that will severely challenge the ability of many animal and plant species to survive at all. In other words, the choice, if there truly is one, is now between rapid and dangerous anthropogenic climate change and a much more severe version of the same.
People being what they are, I personally don’t expect any serious action until things begin to hit the wall. And even then the actions taken may not be “good” ones and may well make things worse.
Since people in the climate change scene often like to bring up World War 2 as an example of the sort of mass-scale action needed to address the issue, a bit of a history lesson is probably in order here … despite decades of propaganda since then, the US government preceding its decision to enter the war on the side of the “Allies” was home to a very large contingent of pro-German powers and interests. It really was a tossup whether the US would enter on the side of the UK, of Germany, or stay out of the war completely.
This is apparently something of a taboo to talk about openly, but the only thing that seems to have led to the US entering the war on the side of the “Allies” was Japan’s somewhat incomprehensible decision to bomb Pearl Harbor — which more or less made it politically impossible to justify support for Germany (because of its alliance with Japan). Were it not for that event, and also associated ones, the US may well have stayed out of the conflict completely or even entered the war in some fashion or other on the side of Germany.
The reason that I bring this up is because people nowadays seem to like to reframe the past as being some sort of series of distinct “events” that inevitably led to the present … as though people, and mass herds of people, are some kind of machine that responds in the way that other people have decided they will, or that the world is some kind of story where everyone does what the official story says they are to do.
If people genuinely want the actions taken by their governments when climate change impacts begin hitting in earnest to be something other than scapegoating and probably-better-left-undone climate engineering experiments, then they will have to do something about it themselves. Because it isn’t set in stone that falling agricultural yields, disappearing resources, flooding cities, dissolving cultures, and the hazy, limited comprehension (projection is more accurate) of the human mind will lead to anything that will actually improve things.
Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.