Quiet possibly. Ocean acidification caused by the same CO2 that causes global warming is causing them to die.
You might think you can take solace in the idea that coral reefs have been with us forever even when ocean chemistry changes, that there must be some way in which coral reefs survive through changing conditions, and that they may look different for a while but they can’t possibly entirely disappear. But the thing is, scientists have known for decades that coral reefs have in fact re-evolved numerous times from entirely different phylogenetic stock. This probably means that ocean acidification has happened before. So no, we are not going to get out of this easily.
You may take solace in the idea that if coral reefs have disappeared before that this is a natural process and they can disappear again and we can still drive around in our SUV’s and stuff. Wrong again. Those prior turnovers in reef history seem to have been associated with mass extinctions. So, no. we don’t get a pass on that one either.
Anyway, here’s what I want you to know. 1) There is a new book out by Peter Sale (author of Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist’s View of the Crisis We Face) talks about the Coral Reef problem and, more to the point, Shiril Kirshenbaum has a discussion of the problem and in this guest post.
If coral reefs interest you, you may be interested in this book on the history of the study of coral reefs by David Dobbs, and this conversation with Dobbs about his book.