Coral reefs around the world turned white in 1997-98, during what was then the strongest el Niño event on record, which warmed oceans.
“It was the first occurrence of coral bleaching on such a massive scale, and many of those bleached corals died,” says marine ecologist Peter Sale. “Reef scientists consoled themselves with the thought that such a dramatic signal would jumpstart a global effort to combat climate change. Only it didn’t.”
He hopes his new book can inspire action to counteract global warming.
Distinguished university professor emeritus of biology, Dr. Sale wrote Coral Reefs: Majestic Realms Under the Sea to introduce readers to the complexity, wonder, and vital planetary roles of these ecosystems.
“Most people have never seen a coral reef, and we are not likely to care about something we do not know,” he says. “Perhaps one more book about reefs can build understanding and engender a commitment to save them, but even if — as is likely — we ultimately fail and reefs disappear, at least we will have some understanding of just what we have lost.”
Sale notes that reefs around the world have lost more than half their living coral since the 1970s, and fears climate change will continue to take its toll.
“In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote that 95 per cent of coral reefs would likely disappear by 2100 even if we managed to keep average global warming to 1.5 degrees,” he says. “The world is currently headed for at least 3 degrees, so you know where that puts coral reefs.”
His book, published by Yale University Press, demonstrates that the decline of this ecosystem is more than a one-off environmental tragedy, but an existential warning to humanity.
“We need far more effort to counteract climate change and a real fight to save coral reefs would help,” says Sale. “I still believe against all evidence that significant numbers of people can begin to care sufficiently about coral reefs to build the political will we need to fight for their continuance.”Coral Reefs: Majestic Realms Under the Sea will be available May 25 and can be pre-ordered from the Campus Bookstore by phoning Jackie Imeson at 519-253-3000, ext. 3219.