Coral reefs build their structures by both producing and accumulating calcium carbonate, and this is essential for the maintenance and continued vertical growth capacity of reefs. An international research team has discovered that the amount of new carbonate being added by Caribbean coral reefs is now significantly below rates measured over recent geological timescales, and in some habitats is as much as 70% lower.
Coral reefs form some of the planet's most biologically diverse ecosystems, and provide valuable services to humans and wildlife. However, their ability to maintain their structures and continue to grow depends on the balance between the addition of new carbonate, which is mostly produced by corals themselves, set against the loss of carbonate through various erosional processes. Scientists have long known that reef ecosystems are in decline and that the amount of live coral on reefs is dwindling. But the paper, published on DATE TBC in Nature Communications, is the first evidence that these ecological changes are now also impacting on the growth potential of reefs themselves.
Professor Chris Perry of the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: "Our estimates of current rates of reef growth in the Caribbean are extremely alarming. Our study goes beyond only examining how much coral there is, to also look at the delicate balance of biological factors which determine whether coral reefs will continue to grow or will erode. Our findings clearly show that recent ecological declines are now suppressing the growth potential of reefs in the region, and that this will have major implications for their ability to respond positively to future sea level rises.
"It is most concerning that many coral reefs across the Caribbean have seemingly lost their capacity to produce enough carbonate to continue growing vertically, whilst others are already at a threshold where they may start to erode. At the moment there is l
|Contact: Louise Vennells|
University of Exeter