By Larraine Roulston:
Climate change is warming the oceans, causing the coral reefs to lose a high percentage of their symbiotic algae. Corals require warm water, but the extra heat is making the algae produce toxins. Because of this, the corals reject the toxic algae. As a result, the corals turn a ghostly white from this process known as “bleaching.”
Due to coral reefs’ structural complexity and richness, they are also referred to as the “tropical rainforests of the sea” and are regarded as one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth. They provide mankind with coastal protection, fisheries, tourism and medicines. Even with all these attributes, maintaining their health has been mostly ignored.
Over the years, coral reefs have endured threats from human and industrial activities, pollution and siltation. Cyanide and dynamite fishing, over-fishing along with anchor damage, have also impacted their well-being. As this fragile ecosystem is extremely sensitive to water temperature, it is the current heat factor that now most concerns scientists. Corals can recover from short-term bleaching, but damage for a prolonged time can be irreversible.
If water temperatures cool soon enough, it is possible that the corals could recover. For decades, marine scientists have been warning about the deterioration of the coral reefs. They also have cautioned that society’s continuing to burn fossil fuels at such a rapid rate will release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and warm our oceans.
Scientists are finding that large sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have already died and that the sea creatures within the surrounding area are in peril. Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at Australia’s James Cook University, stated, “Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of. We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years. In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs —literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”
In an article entitled “Coral Reefs Decimated by 2050, Great Barrier Reef’s Coral 95% Dead,” climate scientists projected that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could lose 95% of its living coral by 2050 should ocean temperatures increase.
Climate scientist and coral researcher, Kim Cobb of the Georgia Institute of Technology states, “These impacts are stacking up at a pace and at a severity that I never had anticipated, even as an expert. It’s really the rapidity of it that is so sobering and shocking — and for me personally, life-altering.”
Governments around the world need to rely less on fossil fuels and turn more quickly to alternative energy. In the meantime, citizens need to become energy efficient. Turning down thermostats, hanging laundry to dry, living with less, adopting more of a plant-based diet, turning off idling car motors and flying less frequently are just a few of the changes we need to make in order to regain the oceans’ once healthy and life-giving temperatures.
Scientists believe that if water temperatures stay moderate, damaged reefs may recover within 15 years.
Larraine writes children’s books on composting and pollinating. To view, visit www.castlecompost.com