Lonely Planet Writer

Remote coral reefs thriving away from human interference despite climate change - report

An extensive new survey measuring the effects of climate change on remote coral reefs says there is now real cause for optimism as they continue to buck the trend despite adverse conditions.

Evidence of coral bleaching is more widespread around populated areas due to the influence of human actions
Evidence of coral bleaching is more widespread around populated areas due to the influence of human actions Image by SarahDepper / CC BY 2.0

The decade-long study of remote islands in the Central Pacific strongly indicates these biodiversity areas are not just coping but thriving in the hotter planet.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that with many of the reefs suffering from a two-year bleaching period caused in part by the El Niño-driven sea warming, scientists feared they would not be able to cope and consequently would fade away over the coming decades. However the latest report from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography is now highlighting how the reefs are fighting back.

The painstaking research was carried out across 56 island and 450 coral reef locations from Hawaii to American Samoa, to the Mariana Archipelago. The findings show that coral reefs around remote islands were in significantly better shape than those suffering from human impact in populated areas of the globe.

The lead author of the study, Jennifer Smith, who is also a professor at Scripps’ Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, said many of the coral reefs probably look now as they did a thousand years ago. She said the researchers were virtually in tears when they saw how healthy some of the reefs were. “It was almost a religious experience,” she stated.

Over the past few decades the ecosystems of coral reefs around the globe have been hit by toxic dumping, overfishing and coastal developments. This led scientists to estimate that 70% of those areas could by lost by 2050. Coral reefs, although covering only a minute area of ocean floor, house close to a quarter of all maritime species. The latest findings will act as a major spur for further preservation efforts, according to senior scientist Stephanie Wear. She was hopeful that it would energize those involved with a belief that their work makes a real difference.