Climate change and the acidification of the oceans—along with overfishing, coastal development, and pollution—will destroy the Earth's coral reefs in as little as 30 years, reports the Independent. The mass-bleaching in the Indian Ocean in 1998 alone destroyed 16% of the world's reefs in just a few weeks. "We've wiped out a lot of species over the years. This will be the first time we've actually eliminated an entire ecosystem," claims Peter Sale, a marine ecologist at United Nations University, whose new book, Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist's View of the Crisis We Face, is published tomorrow.
Despite occupying just 0.1% of the oceans' area, coral reefs are essential because of their stunning biodiversity, richer than even the rain forests. But they are also very delicate, and changes to the oceans are causing coral's algae food to disappear. And while the tiny coral microorganisms can survive even the complete destruction of the reefs, reef disappearances often signal mass extinction events. "[T]he losses of species that are occurring now are in every way equivalent to the mass extinctions of the past," said Sale. (Read more climate change stories.)