“Honestly, most sites are out.” That’s the grim pronouncement from a University of Hawaii at Manoa researcher who looked at the likely status of the planet’s coral reefs by 2100 based on projected climate conditions. Renee Setter and her team discovered that small areas of Baja California in Mexico and the Red Sea may be the only locations where coral can survive—but their proximity to rivers make them less than ideal. NBC News reports they arrived at that finding by looking at the ocean environments coral reefs currently occupy and simulating what they would look like by 2100 based on factors like projected sea surface temps, ocean acidification, pollution, and fishing.
The research was presented Monday at the Ocean Sciences Meeting, and a press release gives context to how the findings might be applied. It notes that scientists are already projecting that as much as 90% of coral reefs will be gone within two decades due to climate change and pollution, leading to efforts in which lab-grown coral is being transferred to dying reefs as a recovery mechanism. Setter’s research suggests most of those destination reefs won’t be in habitats that permit their survival. Per the release, sea surface temperature and acidity emerged as most likely key factors in determining if a habitat can be brought back to a healthy state. “Trying to clean up the beaches is great and trying to combat pollution is fantastic,” says Setter. “But at the end of the day, fighting climate change is really what we need to be advocating for in order to protect corals.” (Read more coral reef stories.)