NEWS AND STORIES



The Journey of Corals: A Look Back at the Last 25 Years

Jun 16 2021
Coral restoration. Photo courtesy Martin Colognoli / Ocean Image Bank

The last 25 years have been cruel to the world’s coral reefs.

Three global mass bleaching events brought on by human-caused climate change plus overfishing and pollution have exasperated our ocean’s corals. Scientists say half of the world’s coral reefs have died in the last 50 years. But there’s hope. Fueled by the crisis facing corals, innovative technology, revolutionary research, and collaborative partnerships are working to restore and protect corals reefs for generations to come.   

Scroll to take a brief look back at what has happened to coral reefs in the last 25 years.

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1998
Negative Impact
The world’s coral reefs experience their first mass bleaching event
Coinciding with a large El Niño followed by a strong La Niña, hard and soft corals bleach throughout the world. Scientists estimate 16% of the world’s shallow corals died with those in Bahrain, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and areas of Tanzania hardest hit. Large parts of the Great Barrier Reef are left unaffected, however.
 
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2005
Negative Impact
The U.S. loses half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean
Heat stress in mid-to-late 2005 exceeds any observed in the last 20 years causing a major bleaching event in the Caribbean. Scientists across 22 countries find that 80% of surveyed corals bleached and over 40% of the total surveyed died. In U.S. waters, half of the corals die. 
 
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2010
Negative Impact
Twelve years after the first global mass bleaching event, corals hit again
Despite a milder El Niño, 2010 gave rise to the second known global bleaching of coral reefs. Proof that even with a smaller El Niño, climate change could push corals past their limits. In Australia, scientists record the first warm-water coral bleaching for several sites.
 
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2013
Positive Impact
Dr. Ruth Gates and Dr. Madeleine van Oppen win Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge
Answering the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s call for ideas to help mitigate ocean acidification and improve ocean health, Dr. Gates and Dr. van Oppen propose human-assisted evolution for corals as a solution. A radical departure from conservation approaches traditionally applied to coral reef ecosystems, the idea wins the Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge.
 
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August 2015
Positive Impact
Paul G. Allen Family Foundation commits over $4 million toward coral assisted evolution research
Building off the Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge, the foundation provides Dr. Ruth Gates and Dr. Madeleine van Oppen with a five-year grant. They apply human-assisted evolution to corals for the first time spawning a movement to help reverse coral reef decline. What was a controversial niche idea turns into a mainstream and important coral reef restoration approach by the end of the grant.
 
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October 2015
Negative Impact
NOAA declares third-ever global coral bleaching event
Brought on by climate change coupled with El Niño, NOAA declares reefs around the globe are experiencing bleaching. By the time the bleaching event ends in 2017, more than 75% of the world’s tropical reefs are impacted.
 
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June 2017
Third global mass bleaching finally ends
After facing high ocean temperatures for an unprecedented three years in a row, a massive coral bleaching event finally ends, but the Great Barrier Reef suffers its most widespread bleaching event on record. NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch’s C. Mark Eakin calls the bleaching event the "the most widespread, longest and perhaps the most damaging on record.”
 
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April 2018
Positive Impact
Australian government commits $500 million to protect and restore the Great Barrier Reef
To help save the country’s greatest natural wonder, the Australian government announces it will invest half a billion – the largest single investment – to protect the reef. As part of the package, the government partners with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to “harness the best science to implement reef restoration and funding science that supports Reef resilience and adaptation.”
 
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October 2018
Positive Impact
Allen Coral Atlas launched to map the world’s coral reefs
Using the world’s largest fleet of satellites, high-powered computer algorithms, and a team of coral experts, the Allen Coral Atlas was developed to map every coral reef in the world in detail. When complete, this unprecedented level of detail will provide conservationists with the ability to detect changes in coral health, and plan and target restoration.
 
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2020
Negative Impact
Study: Half of Great Barrier Reef corals have died
After researching coral sizes between 1995 and 2017, scientists find that the world’s largest reef system has seen half of its coral populations wiped out in the past three decades.