70 years of helping people to care for our ocean

Status of Coral Reefs of the World 2020

By Dr Sean N. Porter

The much-awaited report on the status of coral reefs of the world was recently released in October 2021 by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. This follows what has been described by some as a herculean effort to produce the largest analysis of coral reef health ever undertaken. The value of goods and services provided by coral reefs is estimated at US$2.7 trillion per year, including US$36 billion in coral reef tourism. Although this is the 6th global status report on coral reefs, it is the very first that is underpinned by a quantitative analysis of coral cover. Over 300 scientists, including Sean Porter from the Oceanographic Research Institute, contributed to the report which is based on a dataset comprising almost 2 million observations from more than 12 000 collection sites in 73 countries across regions such as Australia, Caribbean, Brazil, East Asian Seas, Eastern Tropical Pacific, Pacific, South Asia, Western Indian Ocean, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and the ROPME Sea Area which includes The Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The report makes several very important findings that will influence global policy. 

The report attributed the main cause in the decline of coral cover to increases in sea surface temperatures that cause corals to bleach and die. This is particularly concerning as it indicates the vulnerability of corals and coral reefs to thermal disturbances, a phenomenon that is likely to occur more frequently as the planet continues to warm. This report and the recently released Intergovernmental Panel Report on Climate Change provide irrefutable evidence of the causes and consequences of climate change which are likely to result in catastrophic consequences this century far worse than what we have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is becoming more paramount than ever that global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced urgently and that there is a move towards renewable forms of energy in order to reduce global warming as much as possible. Big economy climate action is still sputtering as the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) nears. Domestically, South Africa is the 12th largest greenhouse gas emitter and has the most carbon-intensive and energy inefficient sector of all G20 countries. With more and more protest action around the world highlighting the injustices of climate change and a call to action, especially from the youth who will bear the brunt of climate change and the effects of intergenerational theft, there is mounting pressure on politicians to make the right decisions that will ensure a healthy planet for future generations.