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Volume 558 Issue 7710, 21 June 2018

In deep water

The growth of tropical coral reefs is essential for maintaining reef structure and habitat diversity, and for protecting many shorelines from wave exposure and flooding risks. But, as Chris Perry and his colleagues reveal in this week’s issue, these important functions are under threat as reef health declines and sea levels rise. Declining growth means that reef structures are being diminished, and as water levels rise, the depth of water above the reefs increases. This means that the reef needs to grow vertically to offset the change. In their analysis of reef growth rates in the tropical western Atlantic and Indian Ocean, the researchers found that although the reefs are just about keeping pace at present, changes in reef ecology mean that few reefs in either region will be able to keep up under the moderate or severe sea-level-rise scenarios projected for climate change. As a result, the team suggests that low-lying coastlines and small island nations may lose a key contributor to their coastal protection.

Cover image: Tom Bridge/

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