The global extinction risk of most coral species is lower than previously estimated, scientists in North Queensland claim.
In a world-first, researchers at James Cook University have assessed the number of coral colonies in the Pacific Ocean and evaluated their risk of extinction.
The study measured the population sizes of more than 300 individual coral species on reefs across the Pacific Ocean, from Indonesia to French Polynesia.
Using a combination of coral reef habitat maps and counts of coral colonies to estimate species abundances, they estimate roughly half a trillion corals in the Pacific alone.
Given the huge size of these coral populations, researchers believe it is very unlikely that they face imminent extinction.
To put such an unfathomable number into perspective; the amount of coral is roughly the same as trees in the Amazon or birds in the world.
Dr Andy Dietzel who is the study's lead author, says the results are crucial for the research and conservation of corals and coral reefs.
This is due to the decline in coral colonies the world over due to the effects of climate change.
"We need to know the abundance of a species to assess its risk of extinction," Dr Dietzel said.
He added that their findings suggest that while a local loss of coral can be devastating to coral reefs, the global extinction risk of most coral species is lower than previously estimated.
However, extinctions could instead unfold over a longer time frame because of the broad geographic ranges and huge population sizes of coral species.
Co-author Professor Terry Hughes stated while the study results have huge implications for managing and restoring coral reefs, it is is not the solution to climate change.
"You would have to grow about 250 million adult corals to increase coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef by just one percent."
"The challenge now is to protect wild populations of corals, because we could never replace more than a tiny percentage of them. Prevention is better than cure."
He said the study highlights the opportunity for action to mitigate threats to reef species before climate change threatens global coral extinctions.
Australian Associated Press