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How Many Coral Reefs Have Been Lost in Recent Decades?

Coral reefs are some of the world's most beautiful natural creations, but they are becoming harder and harder to see. According to a compilation and analysis of 14,705 reef surveys in 87 countries, half of the world's reef cover has been lost since the 1950s.

The culprits? Climate change, habitat destruction, overfishing, and pollution. Just as disheartening, the surveys also showed that the diversity of living species that call reefs home has dropped by more than 60 percent. That loss is costly to humans, too, as it means a big drop in food sources for millions of people, especially those who rely on fish as their primary dietary staple.

The scientists who undertook the analysis said the devastation will continue into the future, in large part caused by the Earth's warming trend. More than 90 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases is absorbed by the world's seas.

A glance at coral reefs:

  • Coral reefs are typically found less than 45 feet (13.7 m) below the surface of the ocean because they need sunlight to survive.

  • A coral reef's algae, which typically covers much of its surface, is a living animal, not a plant.

  • Although coral reefs take up only 1 percent of the ocean's space, they are home to a quarter of its marine life.

Discussion Comments


So global warming, which has increased only 1/2 a degree since 1950, is responsible? Try again.

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    • According to a new study, more than half of Earth’s living corals have been lost since the 1950s.
      By: Richard Carey
      According to a new study, more than half of Earth’s living corals have been lost since the 1950s.