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Current efforts to save coral reefs are insufficient, report finds

"Quitting cigarettes is a positive step, but is insufficient if one already has lung cancer," marine scientist Robert Richmond said.

By Brooks Hays
Current efforts to save coral reefs are insufficient, report finds
Coral reefs provide billions of dollars in protection and ecological services each year. Photo by Ian Scott/Shutterstock

Nov. 30 (UPI) -- According to a new report, current efforts to save coral reefs won't be enough to protect them from the impacts of global warming.

Roughly 50 percent of the planet's coral reefs have been lost over the last several decades, and rates of reef decline are accelerating.

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Authors of the new report, published this week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, argue more must be done to curb carbon emissions and prevent the effects of climate change, including coral bleaching, disease outbreaks and ocean acidification.

Current efforts to address local sources of coral stress aren't enough to protect Earth's reefs.

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"Quitting cigarettes is a positive step, but is insufficient if one already has lung cancer," Robert Richmond, research professor and director at Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, said in a news release. "The same is true for reefs -- stopping stressors now is key, but only part of the solution. Interventions are needed and we are running out of time."

The report published by Richmond and his colleagues assessed the effectiveness of several interventions that could be used to protect coral reefs and restore those damaged by climate change.

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The report details genetic and reproductive interventions, involving the selection and breeding of corals with stress-tolerant characteristics. The report also considers the possibility of reinforcing reef health using nutritional supplements, antibiotics and antioxidants, which can improve disease resistance among corals.

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For coral reefs that become isolated, authors of the new report suggest relocation of healthy reefs to provide increased gene flow could prove beneficial.

All of these and more, in addition to reduced carbon emissions, are necessary to save the planet's reefs, a resource that provides humans billions-of-dollars-worth of protections and ecological services every year.

"We can act to leave a vibrant legacy for the future," said Richmond. "This requires urgent interventions, not only to protect what's left, but also to restore what has been lost."

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