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New Research Says Coral Calamity Brought Forward

Endangered Coral
Coral at threat
Originally published 18 September 2003

New research published today in Nature by University of Warwick researcher Dr Charles Sheppard states that in 1998, over 90% of shallow-water corals on Indian Ocean reefs died because of high sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) and that a similar catastrophe may be 10–15 years away — a lot sooner than previously thought. The prediction is particularly alarming because millions of people in the region rely on these reefs for their livelihood.

Since the 1998 episode, scientists have been anxious to predict the timing of repeat events. By combining historical and predictive SST data for 33 Indian Ocean sites that were affected in 1998, Dr Sheppard created a sophisticated model of future coral mortality. The sites potentially seeing the highest rises in SSTs will not necessarily suffer the worst coral destruction, the model suggests. Also, areas predicted to be affected soonest include several of the world’s poorest countries — these ‘lethal’ SSTs could be just a decade away, the author says.

The corals in these areas may not have enough time to recover from the 1998 event before being hit by another wave of mortality. However, the model predicts that should they become tolerant to temperatures 2 °C higher, the next lethal SST rise might be pushed back decades.

For further information please contact:

Dr Charles R. C. Sheppard University of Warwick
Tel: 02476 524975,