The news about the worldâ€™s oceans seems to be unrelentingly badâ€”predictions of terrifying sea-level rise, increasing acidification that threatensÂ to wipe out the phytoplanktonÂ that supports nearly all marine life, andÂ starving whales.
So, Why Should You Care?Â The oceans are absorbing growing amounts of carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels, and the resulting acidification couldÂ cost the global economy $1 trillion a yearÂ by 2100 as coral reefs disappear, according to a United Nations report released last October. Tropical coral reefs and the plethora of fish and marine life that depend on them provide jobs and sustenance to some 400 million people.
In Palau, scientists measured 570 micro atolls in 10 locations around the archipelago and found â€œvertical skeletal extensionâ€ of the reefs over the past six to eight years. That growth rate matched recent sea-level rise, which created the space for the coral reefs, called Porites, to expand.
â€œDespite recent declines in calcification over the past decades, massive Porites are relatively resilient to both decreasing pH and increasing temperature, representing â€˜winnersâ€™ under future climate-change scenarios,â€ the scientists wrote in the study, which was published Wednesday in the journalÂ Royal Society Open Science.
There is a limit to that resilience, however. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, the result will be the â€œcomplete impairment of micro atoll growth by 2050â€¦and reef flats will not be able to keep up with rising sea levels,â€ according to the paper.
Robert van Woesik, lead author of the study and a professor of biological science at the Florida Institute of Technology, said it was uncertain whether the findings would apply elsewhere.
â€œI have no evidence from other locations in the Pacific Ocean, but I will say that Palau has an exceptional conservation history, and local protection certainly matters,â€ he wrote in an email.
The micro atolls play a crucial role in protecting Palauâ€™s low-lying archipelago from tropical storms, as well as providing habitat for fish and other marine life.
â€œIf coral reef growth cannot â€˜keep upâ€™ with sea-level rise, these natural island storm barriers will disappear, resulting in inundation and reductions in the habitable land for millions of people throughout the Pacific Ocean,â€ van Woesik and his colleagues wrote in the study.