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The coral reefs of the US Virgin Islands are on a list of the 10 most important U.S. ecosystems to save for species threatened by climate change, in a new report released by a national coalition of environmental groups. Shallow water coral reefs, including those off the coasts of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Hawaii, are among the habitats listed in “It’s Getting Hot Out There: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World,” released by The Endangered Species Coalition.

Coral reefs are living habitats for many endangered species and vulnerable to ocean acidification and rising sea surface temperatures. As absorbed carbon dioxide increases the acidity of the ocean, coral reefs have more difficulty secreting their calcium carbonate skeletons. Slowed growth rates, coupled with warming temperatures that cause tropical corals to bleach, can result in dead reefs.

If carbon dioxide levels continue to rise in the ocean, coral reefs are in danger of becoming functionally extinct. The impact “may be especially severe for elkhorn and staghorn corals that are already critically endangered,” the report states. Dying coral reefs will impact negatively endangered fish and other marine species that live, forage, and spawn on the reefs.

The report recommends measures to boost the resiliency of coral reefs, including mitigating the impacts of coastal development, reducing overfishing and reducing runoff pollution. For more information or to read the report, go to www.stopextinction.org.

Read more about the report at VirginIslandsDailyNews.com.

(photo courtesy of NOAA.gov.