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Coral crisis is a climate crisis, WWF warns

Global coral bleaching threatens ocean health and livelihoods.

  • Communities express concern about loss of tourism and income. 
  • WWF calls on countries to act urgently to reduce stress on coral reefs by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adding more protections around affected reefs, and reducing disturbance from watersheds and harmful runoff from land.
The global coral bleaching event was alerted in May 2023 and will have severe negative consequences for coastal communities and ocean health. This event – the second in 10 years and fourth overall – was triggered by record-shattering ocean temperatures that began last year.
The scale and severity of the mass coral bleaching is clear evidence of the harm climate change is having right now. We must act urgently to stop burning fossil fuels or we will lose coral reefs worldwide, with devastating consequences for coastal communities and marine wildlife,” says Pepe Clarke, WWF Oceans Practice Leader.
Roughly 850 million people worldwide rely on coral reefs for food, jobs and coastal protection from storms. They also provide habitat for more than 25% of all marine species. Half of all tropical reefs have disappeared in the last century; we are on course to lose up to 90% by 2050 and all coral reefs by the end of the century.
A bleached coral reef is not dead, but is severely stressed. When exposed to prolonged heat – sometimes a difference of just a few degrees – corals expel the beneficial algae they host. This deprives them of their color and nutrients. Bleached corals can recover, if environmental conditions return to normal in time. To help them resist and recover from this disturbance, we need to reduce man-made disturbances such as over-fishing and polluted run-off.
In Madagascar, the effects of climate change on coral reefs, particularly the phenomenon of coral bleaching, are being felt and have been a subject of study since the massive worldwide phenomenon that occurred in 1998.
For Mahery Randrianarivo from WWF Madagascar, “the loss resulting from the scourge of coral bleaching reduces the productivity of the ecosystem and has an effect on the catch of traditional fishermen, who are heavily dependent on reef fishing". Reefs in the east of the country are more or less spared by this phenomenon compared to those in the Mozambique Channel. It has also been found that reefs subject to heavy human disturbance are the most vulnerable and have the hardest time recovering.

WWF Madagascar has been working in the south-west of the country to assess the extent and severity of this phenomenon in early 2024. Tangible results have enabled us to identify the most impacted reef sites, where restoration actions will be necessary. Coral monitoring has also made it possible to select the most abundant species resistant to the effects of disturbance, which will be used to restore these degraded sites.
“In light of this global coral bleaching event, it is more important than ever to protect specific reefs that have exhibited resilience to marine heatwaves and can help in the future to re-seed damaged coral reefs. We must focus on limiting pressures from overexploitation, pollution and over-development on these resilient reefs to enable their survival in a changing climate,” says Carol Phua, Coral Reef Rescue Initiative Lead.