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Reefs at Risk

Coral reefs may be running out of time

By Ezra Billinkoff | November 2 , 2006
According to scientists, more than half of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of vanishing in the next 25 years. (Photo: Kelvin Aitken/age fotostock/Veer)
According to scientists, more than half of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of vanishing in the next 25 years. (Photo: Kelvin Aitken/age fotostock/Veer)

What happens when some of the world’s most beautiful underwater scenery disappears? According to scientists, more than half of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of vanishing in the next 25 years. Rising temperatures throughout the world are a major threat to the survival of the reefs and their inhabitants.

“Think of it as a high school chemistry class. You mix some chemicals together and nothing happens,” said Billy Causey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “You crank up the Bunsen burner and all of a sudden things start bubbling around. That’s what’s happening. That global Bunsen burner is cranking up.”

Coral reefs are sometimes known as underwater tropical rain forests because they appear in warm regions of the world.

Reefs act as habitats, or homes, to dozens of species of animals. Reefs are also home to coral—the leftover shells of small, soft animals. Coral reefs grow slowly over time as the shells and skeletons of these animals build up. In just 25 years, many of these reefs may be things of the past, scientists say.

Experts estimate that there are 230,000 square miles (600,000 square kilometers) of coral reefs worldwide. The Great Barrier Reef—found on the northeast coast of Australia—is the largest continuous reef in the world. It stretches for 1,250 miles.

Rising Temperatures

Temperatures throughout the world are higher than usual, scientists report. Many experts believe it is part of a larger trend known as global warming.

Global warming is a rise in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere, caused by the greenhouse effect. This is when gases like carbon dioxide collect in the earth’s atmosphere, keeping the sun’s heat from escaping.

As temperatures rise, our planet is feeling the effect. Ecosystems where animals and plants live in balance together—like coral reefs—are beginning to disappear because the higher temperatures can affect food supplies.

As summer’s warm temperatures begin to drop slightly in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, scientists are hoping to see some change in the strength of the world’s coral reefs.

“We'd expect [water temperatures] to start cooling down soon,” said Mark Eakin, director of the NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch. “Hopefully, we're right.”


Are you interested in how environmental changes affect the world? Let Scholastic News Online be your guide! Learn about what Kid Reporters are saying about the changing climate by reading their articles in this special report

About the Author

Ezra Billinkoff is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.

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