Tens of thousands of miles of stunning coral reefs could be obliterated by 2050 due to pollution, climate change and overfishing, experts have warned.
Virtually all of the world's most beautiful reefs from the Indian Ocean to Australia and the Caribbean are at 'dire risk' of being wiped out, researchers said in the starkest warning yet on coral reefs.
Environmentalists warned that the consequences for countries that depend on the reefs for food and income would be devastating.
The threat emerged in the report 'Reefs at Risk' made by the World Resources Institute in Washington and 25 other organisations.
|Underwater: Pollution, climate change and overfishing have been blamed in the report for damaging coral reefs
'Mounting pressures on land, along the coast and in the water converge in a perfect storm of threats to reefs,' Jane Lubchenco, administrator at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at a briefing.
'Since the last 'Reefs at Risk' report ... threats have gone from worrisome to dire.
'It's pretty clear that reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, is absolutely necessary if we want any hope of preventing a lot of the dire situations that are presented in the report.'
Warmer seas caused by global warming; ocean acidification blamed on carbon dioxide pollution; shipping, overfishing, coastal development and agricultural run-off all pose a threat to coral reefs, says the report.
The last study, released in 1998, found nearly 60 percent of coral reefs were threatened by human activity.
More than 500 million people around the world depend on coral reefs for food and income; the report estimated coral reefs provide £18billion a year in benefits.
The carbon dioxide emissions that fuel climate change also contribute to making oceans more acidic, which impedes coral formation. In addition, warmer sea surface temperatures cause damaging coral bleaching, the report said.
Local pressures include over-fishing, destructive fishing methods such as explosives or poison, pollution from farm chemical run-off, unchecked coastal development, ships that drag anchors and chains across the reefs and unsustainable tourism.
If these threats don't change, more than 90 percent of reefs will be at risk by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050, the researchers found.
More than 275 million people live within 18 miles of coral reefs. In more than 100 countries, coral reefs protect over 93,000 miles of shorelines.
The report identified 27 nations -- most in the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Indian oceans -- that are socially and economically vulnerable if coral reefs are degraded or lost.
Among those 27, the nine most vulnerable are Comoros, Fiji, Grenada, Haiti, Indonesia, Kiribati, the Philippines, Tanzania and Vanuatu.
Local efforts to curb over-fishing and protect reefs are a known part of the solution, while limiting climate-warming emissions is more challenging, the advocates said.
The report's lead author Lauretta Burke said the situation was 'a perfect storm' of threats.
She added: 'Make no mistake. This is a critical time for ocean eco-systems in general but especially for coral reefs.
'It will take a Herculean effort to rescue the current trajectory and leave a healthy eco-system to our children and grandchildren.'
© Daily Mail, London