The Coral Count
A new study reveals the global extinction risk of most coral is lower than previously estimated.
We have probably all heard at some point that coral reefs are facing extinction. Considering all of the challenges that they endure, including coral bleaching, ocean acidification, damage caused by the tourism industry, and pollution, this does not seem surprising. But what if they’re not actually on the verge of being wiped from our planet?
A new study, published March 2021 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, has found that the risk of extinction of individual coral species is lower than current international assessments. Based on an analysis of over 300 individual species on reef sites across the Pacific Ocean, researchers found that there are around the same number coral as there are trees in the Amazon.
So should we stop reef restoration projects like those in the Great Barrier Reef?
The short answer is no.
Coral reefs are still an important part of local ecosystems and allowing them to be damaged and ultimately disappear would have a devastating effect on the other life that depend on reefs.
Dr Andy Dietzel, who led the study and is based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, shared “Even though they may not go extinct in the next decade, they may decline by 95% and they then lose the function that they’ve had [on the ecosystem where they live]. We then lose the habitat for fish species, for example.” Although the global population of corals is unlikely to be depleted any time soon, local coral extinctions are still a very real threat that would have a domino effect and trigger the endangerment and extinction of other organisms.
There is still a lot that we don’t know about the oceans, and this study is just a reminder of that fact, but the more we learn the more obvious it becomes that we must protect our oceans.