From Smithsonian Magazine, May 2006
Gordon Chaplin, in A Return to the Reefs chronicles a 50-year retrospective study of coral reefs he knew in childhood, as an assistant to his father. He describes the current condition of the reefs as shocking, citing carbon dioxide emissions and global warming as primary agents of destruction:
"Emitted into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned, carbon dioxide has become much more concentrated in seawater in the past 60 years, making the ocean more acidic and interfering with coral polyps’ ability to generate their limestone skeleton. More significantly, ocean temperatures have risen in recent years, and coral is so sensitive to change that a prolonged warming of less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal can cause bleaching. In this frequently fatal condition, coral polyps expel their symbiotic algae and turn snowy white. Officials from the World Conservation Union warn that if global warming continues at the predicted rate, up to half of the world’s coral reefs may die within the next 40 years."