for National Geographic News
A third of the world's major reef-building coral species are in danger of extinction, an international team of scientists warns in a study published today.
Because coral reefs are home to more than a quarter of all marine species, their loss could be devastating for biodiversity in the world's oceans.
"If corals themselves are at risk of extinction and do in fact go extinct, that will most probably lead to a cascade effect where we will lose thousands and thousands of other species that depend on coral reefs," said the study's lead author Kent Carpenter, a zoologist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
The rate at which reefs have been besieged is most troubling, the scientists say.
Of the 704 corals classified in the study, 231 were listed as "vulnerable," "endangered," or "critically endangered" according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.
A decade ago just 13 species met the same criteria.
The study appears in the online journal Science Express.
On The Brink?
Studies around the globe have made the news of coral reef declines distressingly commonplace, the researchers say.
"What we did was use that information about decline to ask the question, What is the consequence of this on the potential loss of biodiversity?" Carpenter said.
"It's easy for people to understand that coral reefs are at risk, but it's gotten to the point now where the risk of extinction is a reality for the actual species that form the coral reefs. That could be devastating to biodiversity in the ocean."
Some reef locales are faring worse than others, the paper said.
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