A study has revealed that most coral reefs will not survive the drastic increases in global temperatures and atmospheric CO2 unless governments act immediately to combat current trends.
The study, conducted by Dr. Bob Steneck, of the University of Maine and 16 other marine scientists from several countries, stated the effects rising ocean temperatures are having on the world's coral reefs.
The study showed a bleak picture of a future without all but the most resilient coral species if atmospheric CO2 levels continue on their current trajectory.
It warned that the marine biodiversity, tourism and fishing industries and the food security of millions are at risk.
Steneck said that the time was right for international leaders to commit to meaningful action to save the world's coral reefs.
"The science speaks for itself. We have created conditions on Earth unlike anything most species alive today have experienced in their evolutionary history. Corals are feeling the effects of our actions and it is now or never if we want to safeguard these marine creatures and the livelihoods that depend on them," Steneck said.
Coral skeletons are made of calcium, and reef development requires plenty of carbonate ions to build these skeletons, a process called calcification.
When carbon dioxide is absorbed in the ocean, the pH level drops, along with the amount of carbonate ions, slowing the growth of coral reefs.
Atmospheric CO2 levels are currently at 380 parts per million (ppm) and the researchers of the study calculated that once levels reach 560ppm, the calcification process could be reduced by up to 40 percent.
The scientists also suggested that by 2100 the oceans would be so acidic that 70 percent of the habitat for deep-water corals, once considered relatively safe from the effects of climate change, will be uninhabitable.
Ocean acidification is just one example of the threats corals are facing. Bleaching, a process that is triggered when summer sea temperatures rise above normal for weeks at a time causes corals to expel the algae that gives them their colour and nutrients.
Another threat is that consumer demand has also placed corals at risk. Popular products include coral jewellery, home decor items and live animals used in home aquaria.
Fernanda Kellogg, president of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, said, "Tiffany & Co. is committed to obtaining precious materials in ways that are socially and environmentally responsible. We decided to stop using real coral in our jewellery and feel that there are much better alternatives that celebrate the beauty of the ocean without destroying it."
The study, titled 'Carbon Crisis: Coral Reefs under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification' is published in Science.