Quantcast

Only 1% of Japan’s Largest Reef Still Healthy After Historic Bleaching Catastrophe

Climate
Coral bleaching like this (in the Great Barrier Reef) is killing the largest reef in Japan. Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0

In a sobering reminder of the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, a survey by the Japanese government found that barely more than one percent of the coral in the country's largest coral reef is healthy, AFP reported Friday.

The reef, located in the Sekisei Lagoon near Okinawa, has suffered mass coral bleaching events due to rising sea temperatures in 1998, 2001, 2007 and 2016.


"If coral reefs don't recover, it means a loss of rich fauna for a variety of creatures and would have grave impact on the ecosystem in the region," Japan Environment Ministry official Chihiro Kondo told AFP.

While coral reefs only account for one percent of the ocean, they are home for 25 percent of marine life, according to AFP.

The reef is also important for tourism and local fisherman.

"Damage on this scale will have long-term economic and social repercussions," University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa professor and coral expert James Reimer told the Huffington Post in an article about the 2016 bleaching event.

Ministry officials analyzed information and satellite images from 1,000 monitoring sites in the 67.89 square kilometer (approximately 26.21 square mile) lagoon and found that only 1.4 percent of its corals were healthy.

Surveys of nearby reefs in lagoons near the Ishigaki and Iriomote islets turned up similar results.

This was the first detailed satellite survey of the reef since 2008, at which point only 0.8 percent of it was healthy. In 1991, 14.6 percent was healthy.

"But the latest study shows that corals haven't recovered much since 2008, presumably partly because of the 2016 bleach," Kondo told AFP.

The 2016 bleaching event was the worst in the reef's recorded history, the Huffington Post reported. A December 2016 survey found that 70 percent of the reef's coral had died and 90 percent were partly bleached after ocean temperatures were one to two degrees Celsius higher than average that summer.

Scientists say it takes about 10 to 20 years for fast-growing corals to recover from a bleaching event and hundreds of years for older, larger specimens.

"In contrast, we have now had three severe bleaching events causing mass coral mortality in the Ryukyu Islands since 1998. With the oceans warming as rapidly as they are, I doubt there will be time for them to recover before the next bleaching event," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coral reef watch coordinator Mark Eakin told the Huffington Post.

Overall, the reef has lost 80 percent of its volume since the 1980s due to both rising temperatures and a coral-eating starfish, AFP reported.

Japan's reefs aren't the only ones in danger. 2016 was a deadly year for coral worldwide, impacting 94 percent of the reefs surveyed in the Great Barrier Reef.

A 2011 NOAA study warned that all the world's reefs could die off by 2050 without immediate action due to bleaching, ocean acidification and other human activities like fishing, agriculture and coastal development.


EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Fabian Krause / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Elizabeth Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Paprika is a spice made from the dried peppers of the plant Capsicum annuum.

Read More Show Less
Water protectors of all persuasions gathered in talking circles at Borderland Ranch in Pe'Sla, the heart of the sacred Black Hills, during the first Sovereign Sisters Gathering. At the center are Cheryl Angel in red and white and on her left, Lyla June. Tracy Barnett

By Tracy L. Barnett

Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.

For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Hedges, 2019 © Hugh Hayden. All photos courtesy of Lisson Gallery

By Patrick Rogers

"I'm really into trees," said the sculptor Hugh Hayden. "I'm drawn to plants."

Read More Show Less
BruceBlock / iStock / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Thanks to their high concentration of powerful plant compounds, foods with a natural purple hue offer a wide array of health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Environmental Investigation Agency

By Genevieve Belmaker

Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Jessica Kourkounis / Stringer

The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

Pixabay

By Manuella Libardi

Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
XL CATLIN SEAVIEW SURVEY / THE OCEAN AGENCY

Hope may be on the horizon for the world's depleted coral reefs thanks to scientists who successfully reproduced endangered corals in a laboratory setting for the first time, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less