Bleak outlook for coral reefs

Discussion in 'Diving, Collecting and Environmental Discussions' started by robvdv, 5 Jan 2008.

  1. robvdv


    22 Jun 2007
    Likes Received:
    Noordhoek, Cape Town
    Hi folks,

    What follows is a terribly bleak prediction of the future state of the world's reefs.

    The author is Thomas J. Goreau, PhD. He's the president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance.

    I received this in today's Coral-List mailing list email. If you'd like to receive it too, read about it here:



    To those seriously concerned about climate change and the future of
    coral reefs:

    Climate change has been a minor subject on the coral list server
    until recently, when a flurry of postings, focusing largely on the
    merits of different cars rather than impacts on corals, appeared in
    response to a recent Science article. According to press reports,
    this article makes predictions, based on models, that climate change
    might begin to affect reefs in 50-70 years.

    This is overly optimistic! In fact we could lose most of what is left
    in the next extreme hot year that exceeds 1998, and this could come
    at any time. Statistically, based on the Global Coral Reef Alliance
    database of global coral reef satellite sea surface temperatures
    since 1982, it is due this year. But we can't be exactly certain
    because of the noise in the climate system (I published many papers
    on this with Ray Hayes since 1990, none cited in the Science paper).
    The real news is that we have ALREADY passed the tipping point. And
    that what emerged from Bali was cynical abandonment of coral reefs
    and countries that depend on them. The oil and coal burners chose to
    sacrifice reefs because they don't want to be inconvenienced by
    changing their polluting ways, and they don't care what happens to
    coral reefs, island nations, low lying coasts, or even the future of
    their own children. But they can't say that they weren't warned what
    was happening.

    These opinions are based on empirical data, not on models (like the
    Science paper) that are only general qualitative descriptions of
    reality. If this seems like just another outrageous personal opinion,
    bear in mind that I am the only coral reef scientist with degrees in
    atmospheric physics and chemistry from MIT, Caltech, and Harvard. As
    a teenager I wrote computer programs that correctly predicted zonal
    wind speeds on Saturn decades before space probes confirmed them and
    was asked to do my PhD writing general circulation models to predict
    the climatic effects of CO2 increase. I refused to get back to coral
    reefs and warm water. I set up the first labs in the Amazon to
    measure greenhouse gases at high precision, made the first
    measurements of tropical jungle deforestation effects on atmospheric
    chemistry, and in the 1980s published half a dozen papers on
    stabilization of atmospheric CO2. When these were ignored, I went
    back to restoring coral reefs, the most financially unrewarding
    activity that I know.

    Paleoclimatic data clearly shows that the IPCC projections for future
    climate change have seriously underestimated the sensitivity of
    temperature and sea level to CO2. The last time in earth history when
    global temperatures were 1 degree C above today's, sea levels were 7
    meters higher than now, and hippopotamuses and crocodiles flourished
    in London, England. Because CO2 was then one third lower than today's
    value, the conditions then greatly UNDERESTIMATE what will happen
    when temperature and sea level eventually equilibrate with TODAY'S
    level of CO2, even if we never burn another gram of coal or oil or
    natural gas starting immediately. I showed this in briefings to
    delegates at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, predicting
    that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (and the later
    Kyoto Protocol to FCCC) was so weak that it was guaranteed to kill
    coral reefs. I warned that we would lose most corals to heat shock in
    the next decades if negotiators failed to stop global warming then
    and there. I showed that the IPCC had systematically underestimated
    the impacts for two very simple reasons: 1) the models they use fail
    to include the vast bulk of the positive feedback mechanisms that the
    empirical data proves exists in the Earth Climate System, and 2) the
    time horizon for their predictions was 1 to 2 orders of magnitude
    shorter than the response time of the system, so they only covered
    the initial effects, and missed the bulk of the total response.

    As Senior Scientific Affairs Officer for global climate change and
    biodiversity at the United Nations Centre for Science and Technology
    for Development, I had a lot of input into the draft of the Framework
    Convention on Climate Change. At that point it was already clear that
    coral reefs were the most temperature sensitive ecosystem, and we had
    already developed the Goreau-Hayes HotSpot method for predicting the
    location, timing, and intensity of bleaching from satellite data
    alone before it could be seen in the field. Unfortunately this was
    widely denied and ridiculed by our colleagues, who later copied our
    data-based conclusions word for word as "common knowledge" without
    bothering to cite the sources (there is a word for this that I'm too
    polite to use here). I personally inserted the words "coral reefs"
    every place in the original draft UN Framework Convention on Climate
    Change where they belonged, insisted explicitly on COMPLETE
    accounting of all greenhouse gas sources and sinks, and added that
    one of the goals of the convention was to protect Earth's most
    temperature-sensitive ecosystems. What the UN sent out to governments
    was vastly better than what they got back! Governments made
    scientific nonsense of the treaty by confusing net with gross fluxes,
    rewarding bogus carbon sinks while ignoring the real ones, failing to
    identify the most climatically sensitive ecosystems and requiring
    that they be monitored for signs of temperature stress, and failing
    to establlish trigger mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
    if such stress was in fact shown. Minutes after the Convention was
    passed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, I passed out leaflets describing it
    as a death sentence for coral reefs.

    I was the only coral reef researcher at the UN Convention on Climate
    Change in Bali, on the delegation of Jamaica, on the delegation of
    the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (an Inter-Governmental
    Organization representing almost all Caribbean States), as
    Coordinator of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable
    Development Partnership in New Technologies for Small Island
    Developing States, as President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance,
    and as Science Advisor to Yayasan Karang Lestari (Foundation for
    Protected Corals, an Indonesian Non Governmental Organization that
    runs the world's largest coral reef and fisheries habitat restoration

    My briefings to the 41 member states of the Association of Small
    Island States (the island nations of the Pacific, Caribbean, and
    Indian Ocean) and to the Indonesian Government (the host country and
    home to the largest and richest coral reefs in the world), also
    passed out to all of the nearly 200 governments present, pointed out
    that: 1) the impacts of climate change had been seriously and
    systematically underestimated, and the threat was much worse and more
    imminent than recognized, with coral reefs and island nations being
    the first and worst victims 2) that we could lose most remaining
    corals in the next extreme hot year, 3) that the EU proposal to allow
    CO2 to rise to 450 ppm and temperature to rise by 2 degrees C
    (blocked by the US, Canada, Japan, the Arab oil producing states,
    China, India, and Russia for their own reasons) was unacceptable to
    small island developing states because it meant sacrificing coral
    reefs, fisheries, and shore protection against rising sea level, 4)
    that what was needed was to REDUCE atmospheric CO2 by AT LEAST one
    third BELOW today's levels, and 5) that the technologies to do so
    were proven and in hand, but were not being funded or even discussed.
    These technologies will be covered in detail in a book I am editing
    on Underutilized Technologies for Sustainable Development and
    Reversing Global Warming, which will be published in May 2008 at the
    United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

    There is precious little time now left to act, thanks to decades of
    denial and obfuscation by governments and by many coral reef
    professionals, long after the heat shock cause of mass coral reef
    bleaching was thoroughly established by 1990. What Bali gave us is
    another two wasted years of talking while temperatures continue to
    rise without control, and corals and people die from extreme
    temperature events. That is why further delay is a capital crime
    against the environment. We must ensure that what climate treaties
    emerge two years from now deal with the real problems, not avoiding
    them, and promote the real solutions, not fake ones. While this may
    seem merely academic to those from rich countries, it is a matter of
    life and death for the island nations, especially the low lying ones,
    and for coral reefs.

    For more information on the problems and the solutions, please see:

    1) The first New York Times comment on the aftermath of Bali

    Voices on Bali, and Beyond - Dot Earth - Climate Change and Sustainability - New York Times Blog

    2) The briefing to island nation delegations Warming Coral Reefs and%

    The latter link may not work in all browsers. If clicking it says
    that the page can't be found, just copy and paste it into your
    browser window and it should work.

    Best wishes,

    Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
    Global Coral Reef Alliance
    37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
    The Global Coral Reef Alliance GCRA
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  3. irie ivan

    irie ivan MASA Contributor

    6 May 2007
    Likes Received:
    Scary wake up call. Just a pity that its gonna become another I told you so story.
    Thanks for the link Rob.
  4. Warr7207


    28 Dec 2007
    Likes Received:
    Way too little to late.

    Bye bye Corals. :(

    And we have known this for 20-30 years.

    Thanks Ronny, Bill, George I, George II
  5. sunburst


    8 May 2007
    Likes Received:
    Thanks Rob. Great read.
    The wake up call is still not loud enough. This year the Arctic thaw exceeded even the most extreme weather models. They are now reported as being decades out. Reports were then released claiming that this rapid loss in ice was due to an isolated rare warm water upwelling.
    We seem to be having a lot of these rare extreme events
  6. Warr7207


    28 Dec 2007
    Likes Received:
    Yeah, but what can we do when the Yanks (Earth's biggest contributor of CO2 to the atmosphere) are the guys screwing it up and they still believe global warming is a myth :(

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