Worst coral reef die-off in 11,000 years
December 18, 2006
Two new studies by scientists at the Australian Research Council Centre of
Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University suggest that
coral reefs may be in worse shape than previously thought. The first,
appearing in the journal Geology indicates that the current large scale
coral die-offs are now occurring more frequently than at any time in the
last 11,000 years. The second, published in Current Biology, suggests that
the loss of a single "keystone" species can trigger a rapid shift in the
health of a reef.
The first study, led by Associate Professor John Pandolfi of the Australian
Research Council Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies and The
University of Queensland, examined fossilized reefs of the Huon Peninsula in
Papua New Guinea and determined that past reef die-offs occurred about every
1500 years due to some catastrophic event -- a rate that is exceeded by the
current decline in coral reefs;
"The cause of some of these events was volcanic, but others may have been
due to bleaching, disease, or something else - we just don't know.
Regardless, what is clear is that the frequency of die-off was so much lower
than it is today. The frequency of reef events in the fossils is at least an
order of magnitude less than it is today" said Pandolfi.
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