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Global warming may have damaged coral reefs forever

Global warming has had a more devastating effect on some of the world's finest coral reefs than previously assumed, suggests the first report to show the long-term impact of sea temperature rise on reef coral and fish communities.

Large sections of coral reefs and much of the marine life they support may be wiped out for good, say the international team of researchers, who surveyed 21 sites and over 50,000 square metres of coral reefs in the inner islands of the Seychelles in 1994 and 2005.

Their report is the first to show the long-term impact of the 1998 event where global warming caused Indian Ocean surface temperatures to increase to unprecedented and sustained levels, killing off (or 'bleaching') more than 90 per cent of the inner Seychelles coral.

The team, led by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and which comprises researchers from the UK, Australia and the Seychelles, publishes its findings today, Monday May 15, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research showed that, while the 1998 event was devastating in the short term, the main long-term impacts are down to the damaged reefs being largely unable to reseed and recover. Many simply collapsed into rubble which became covered by unsightly algae.

The collapse of the reefs removed food and shelter from predators for a large and diverse amount of marine life - in 2005 average coral cover in the area surveyed was just 7.5 per cent.

The survey showed that four fish species (a type of butterfly fish, two types of wrasses and a type of damsel fish) are possibly already locally extinct, and six species are at critically low levels (a type of file fish, three types of butterfly fish and two damsel fish), although their decline probably started to happen soon after 1998.

The survey also revealed that species diversity of the fish community had decreased by 50 per cent in the heavily impacted sites. Reduced biodiversity res
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Source:University of Newcastle upon Tyne


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