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In Egypt’s Red Sea, corals fade as oceans warm

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Sharm El-Sheikh hosted a United Nations agencies conference in 2018 that called for the protection of coral reefs ‘before it’s too late’

Standing on a boat bobbing gently in the Red Sea, Egyptian diving instructor Mohamed Abdelaziz looks on as tourists snorkel amid the brilliantly coloured corals, a natural wonder now under threat from climate change. 

“If they disappear, we’ll disappear with them,” he says of the vibrant corals on the reef, a species-rich ecosystem just below the turquoise waters that is beloved by diving enthusiasts worldwide.

Along with pollution and dynamite fishing, global warming wiped out 14 percent of the world’s coral reefs between 2009 and 2018, says a new survey by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, the biggest ever carried out. 

“We can see the effects of global warming before our eyes,” said Islam Mohsen, 37, another local diving instructor at the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. 

– Biodiversity hotspots –

The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden boast the most biologically diverse coral reef communities outside of Southeast Asia.

The new global survey said that live hard coral cover in the region fluctuated over recent decades but declined overall, from 36.1 percent in 1997 to 34.3 percent in 2019.

Steps have been taken in Egypt to protect reefs and marine life that are crucial to the local tourism sector.

It has also suspended beginners’ diving classes in some areas to allow damaged reefs to recover. 

– Marine heatwaves –

These are pushing many species of corals past their limits of tolerance.

“So not only will the temperature increase, but the PH level will change too,” affecting all animals with shells, she said. “We will lose a lot of wildlife, and the ecosystem will be changing in a way that affects us as humans in terms of resources.

Sharm El-Sheikh hosted a United Nations agencies conference in 2018 that called for the protection of coral reefs “before it’s too late”. 

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that up to 90 percent of coral reefs “may be gone by mid-century” even if the rise in temperatures stabilises below 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

“Even if humans completely disappear from Earth tomorrow or we stopped producing any kind of emissions,” she said, “the temperature will continue to rise by itself.”

Originally published as In Egypt’s Red Sea, corals fade as oceans warm

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