The Disappearing Coral Reef
For years scientists have been warning us about the declining state of our coral reefs due to damaging human activities such as climate change, pollution and overfishing. Regardless we are still continuing to lose coral reefs at an alarming rate.
WWF predicts that up to one third of our coral reefs are already damaged beyond repair with the another two-thirds under serious threat, meaning that the recent mass bleaching of Australia's Great Barrier Reef will come as a huge blow to the problems that we already face regarding the health of our ocean ecosystems.
Although the Paris Agreement last year (2016) resulted in the vast majority of countries committing to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees, this target remains ambitious especially in the developing world that is industrialising at an increasing rapid rate. As a result global temperatures and therefore sea temperatures have risen, causing widespread problems for ocean life that is unable to adapt quickly enough to survive or thrive under these unfavourable conditions.
This poses a problem in particular for coral reefs, as higher temperatures drive out the algae (zooxanthellae, a mouthful I know) that inhabit them which is what results the coral turning white aka coral bleaching as it is the algae that give the coral their colour.
What the big deal about a bunch of corals turning white you ask?
With the algae gone, the coral are without their main source of food meaning that they eventually die. Although corals only make up 1% of the Earth's undersea ecosystems they play a really important role in supporting healthy sea life by sheltering 25% of marine species and protecting shorelines.
Corals can step onto the road of recovery if the algae, remember those ones with the really long name, begin to inhabit them again but this process takes years. This is one of the key causes of concern for marine biologists, as the frequency of these bleaching events (four severe bleaching events since 1998, two of which have been in the past 12 months) means that the coral reefs haven't had time to recover which negatively impacts on the marine life that relies upon it.
Now do you feel like asking "Knowing this is great but realistically even if I wanted to help, what can I do?"
Whilst the bleaching of coral reefs is a global problem due to the effects of climate change, on an individual level you can make a difference no matter how small you perceive it to be. Simply, reducing your carbon footprint by walking, cycling or taking public transport whenever possible, supporting forest conservation to help absorb atmospheric CO2 or even adopting a coral reef through the Nature Conservancy!
I know that with so much else going on in the world at the moment from Trump to Pepsi to Beyonce having twins, the coral reefs probably aren't super high on many people's list of interests but it doesn't mean that they aren't important. Plus if they all disappeared it would definitely reduce the appeal of any deep sea diving you have planned in the future.