Loss of 'underwater rain forests' threatens future

Li Qian
The Earth is losing its "underwater rain forests," posing a severe threat to the balance of ecosystems, experts attending the Sixth World Water Source Summit in Shanghai heard.
Li Qian
Loss of underwater rain forests threatens future
Ti Gong

The Sixth World Water Source Summit opens in Shanghai.

The Earth is  losing its “underwater rain forests," posing a severe threat to the balance of ecosystems, experts attending the Sixth World Water Source Summit in Shanghai have heard.

Oceans supply half of the oxygen on Earth, and coral reefs are the lungs of oceans. Also, they provide a home for 25 percent of all marine life, with an estimated one billion people depending on them for food and income, according to World Wildlife Fund. 

Statistics from 1985 to 2020, however, show that coral reefs are bleaching, or losing colors and turning white, nearly seven times as frequently as they did in the 1980s.

Coral bleaching used to take place once every 27 years, but they are happening every four years now, according to the China Natural Resources News, a newspaper administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources of China

In March, the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, experienced the third mass coral bleaching event in five years, the most widespread and the second most severe on record.

The France-based Tara Ocean Foundation, which studies the ocean environment and climate change, has launched more than 5,000 underwater expeditions in the Asia Pacific region. Mass coral bleaching and die-offs were everywhere they dived, Michel Temman, project director of Tara in Asia, told the summit.

China has not been spared. In August, severe coral bleaching, described as a rarely-seen event, was spotted on the northwest of the Hainan Island. Li Yuanchao, associate researcher at the Hainan Academy of Ocean and Fisheries Sciences, said it has killed more than 86 percent of the coral.

Early this year, marine scientists at the University of Hawaii estimated that 70 to 90 percent of all coral reefs will disappear over the next 20 years, and they will face extinction by 2100.

Coral bleaching is believed to be main reason behind the death of coral reefs. Main causes include over-fishing, plastic pollution, global warming and coastal development.

Temman draw special attention to plastic pollution.

Marine plankton provides the primary food source in coral reef ecosystems. But now they are feeding on marine micro-plastics. 

Humans, at the top of food chain, will eventually become victims of pollution, which will be an irrevocable ecological crisis, he said.

Geologist Yang Yong, the initiator of the summit, shared his views on ecological preservation and the development of water systems in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province and neighboring areas in Sichuan and Yunnan.

Hydro-power stations in the region contributes to one-fourth of China's installed capacity of electricity, which is twice as much as that generated by the Three Gorges Dam. 

Over 20 years of field research, Yang has perceived the challenges and opportunities China’s water systems faces, especially the relation between water and humans, according to anthropologist Zhou Lei, co-founder of the social organization Oriental Danology Institute.

The summit was supported by Hengduan Mountain Research Society, TARA Ocean Foundation, Shanghai Women’s Federation, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, China Maritime Museum, Green Initiatives and Shanghai Botanical Garden.

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