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ghost reefs

Nearly all coral reefs will be ruined by climate change.

According to a study in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, 99 percent of the world’s reefs will be affected by coral bleaching by the end of this century if climate change continues apace.

When water is above ideal temperatures, coral expels the symbiotic algae that reside in its tissue and provide it with nutrients. This turns the reefs a ghostly white, and while the coral is not exactly dead at that point, it is more susceptible to disease — and death. A bleaching event on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef last year, for instance, left 67 percent of its shallow-water coral dead.

This isn’t just bad for the reefs themselves; it’s bad for the vast, biodiverse ecosystems that depend on them. That includes the humans who fish these reefs and who cater to reef-loving tourists. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that the commercial value of fisheries near coral reefs is over $100 million in the U.S. alone, and reef-related tourism generates billions of dollars a year.

Even if aggressive actions are taken to combat climate change, such as those pledged during the Paris climate talks, it could be too late to prevent mass bleaching events at many reefs, according to the study. Divers, you might want to book those trips sooner rather than later.