Loss of Food Supply and Livelihoods In the Coral Triangle May Trigger Mass Displacement

[New Zealand Press Association] — An Australian scientist is warning that climate change may drive a wave of economic refugees from southeast Asia and the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia.

Damage done by climate change in the “coral triangle” – an ocean region north of Australia which supports millions of people in coastal communities – may trigger the flood of refugees, according to Queensland University researchers.

More than 150 million poor people live on the shores of the coral triangle, relying on it for food.

As much as 90 percent of those food resources could be gone by the end of the century, university director of the marine studies Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said.

“You start to see that you are now destabilising human communities through the fact that there is just not enough food,” he told the ABC.

Map of the Coral Triangle. Photo credit: WWF

“So where do they go? We’ll almost invariably see an increased level of pressure on Australia and New Zealand to provide the sort of intake that needs to alleviate these problems.”

A report by the Queensland University marine studies centre found unchecked global warming could take a terrible toll.

The triangle’s waters cover just 1 per cent of the earth’s surface from Indonesia in the west to Solomon Islands in the east and the Philippines in the north, but contain 75 percent of the world’s reef-building coral species and a third of the world’s coral reef fish.

A key form of calcium carbonate, aragonite, which is used by corals and other sea life to create their framework or shells may become less available before the middle of the century.

According to a National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) scientist at Otago University, Dr Philip Boyd, the world will see a significant `tipping point’ in terms of ocean chemistry by as early as 2030, and the calcium carbonate shells of some organisms may dissolve. About half the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reacting with water to form carbonic acid, and increasing the overall acidity of ocean water.

The ocean’s acidity levels have risen 30 percent since the industrial revolution 200 years ago.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the ocean’s acidity is expected to rise between 30 and 70 percent over this century.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg told the ABC some coral reefs may already be functionally extinct.

“We see mangrove systems that support fisheries gone and what we see is food security plummet.

“I think we’ve got to take this issue as a global emergency.”

Source: New Zealand Press Association

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