It is an open secret that the environment is fading away. Yet again, another chunk of the ecosystem is vanishing faster than expected. Coral Reefs have been on a sharp decline in the past 30 years. The colorful ocean base used to rage with life. It is now being replaced with an expansive grey region where life is increasingly absent. Our Coral Reefs are dying due to coral bleaching, caused by global warming.
When water becomes too warm, corals expel algae (zooxanthellae), causing the coral to turn grey. This is known as coral bleaching. Staying in this bleached state for an extended period of time eventually leads to their death.
The major cause of the decline od Coral Reefs is the rising temperatures in the ocean. It has led to the loss of over half of the Coral Reefs in the world. Scientists are already scrambling to find solutions to stop the world losing an important chunk of our ecosystem.
Studies have indicated that Coral Reefs could vanish from the earth by 2050. I90 percent of the loss is guaranteed, whether the world finds a solution to global warming or not. This calls for an increased urgency to find a solution to the menace.
Coral Reefs play a significant role in the ecosystem with both ocean and human life depending on them for their livelihood. They populate just a portion of the ocean, yet they provide a habitat for more than a quarter of the marine population. Coral Reefs, at the same time, form a barrier that protects the coastline during a storm. As the equivalent to an underwater rainforest, they do produce part of the oxygen consumed by humans. All these benefits are at risks with the demise of Coral Reefs in our ecosystem due to global warming.
Coral Reefs and Their Impact on the World
The Coral Reefs are a big player in the world economy as well. Corals are a source of revenue in the tourism sector. Countless tourists flock to watch the Coral Reefs per year generating billions of dollars. Fishing and other economic activities are also contributed to Coral Reefs.
Coral Reefs are used in the medical sector, in the search for cures of diseases like arthritis, cancer and other infections.
As much concern has been expressed about the Australian Great Barrier reef, it has been proven that reefs are endangered all over the world, with other places faring even worse. One example is Japan’s biggest Coral Reef, Sekiseishoko, which has lost more than two-thirds of its size due to coral bleaching. Coral bleaching has been on the rise in the area with more than 90% of the reef’s corals either partially or fully bleached.
According to the Japan Times, severe coral bleaching episodes in between June and September 2016 were a result of an increase in ocean temperatures by 1-2 degrees Celsius. The temperatures, at one point, were over 30 degrees Celsius.
The Destruction of Coral Reefs
Other causes for the destruction of Coral Reefs are poison fishing. Even though cyanide and other poisons that are used to catch fish only affect the fish for a short time before they get normal again, the same cannot be said for the corals. It affects them for a long time and leads to their death and destruction. Changes in the chemical make-up of water due to elements introduced to the ocean through human activities have also lead to the death of the corals. Introducing foreign objects like fertilizers, human or animal wastes, and oil into the water can block life-giving sunlight from reaching the reefs and can also cut the nutrients they need for survival.
Therefore the need for controlled human activities along the Coral Reefs must be exercised. Mining and construction along the sea coasts should be reduced as it leads to silting and prevent polyps from growing. Tourists also need to be educated on responsible reef watching, to avoid touching them, as studies have shown that oils from human fingers can damage the reefs as well.
Coral Reef Evolution
Even in as much as the world is worried about the decline of the Coral Reefs, there is hope that they might develop new survival tactics naturally. It has been known that plants and animals are able to survive by adapting to a changing environment. At the moment, previously dead corals are showing signs of a tentative comeback.
Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute were able to discover a species in the reefs that existed two million years ago that braved extremely cold temperatures and survived. At that time, the sea waters got extremely cold with glaciers covering almost the entire northern hemisphere. This meant that the Caribbean was fully covered leaving no space for the reefs to breathe. The Orbicella species was able to survive through the extreme conditions by using its high genetic diversity. There are chances that this very species could still use these features to face global warming as well.
How Can We Help to Protect Coral Reefs?
Even as people all over the world feel like they are helpless in controlling the demise of the Coral Reefs, it is worth knowing that all humans have a role to play in the ecosystem. We must not let the work of saving the reefs be shouldered by scientists and researchers alone. In order to help the environment, thus helping to protect the endangered reefs, we should:
- conserve water by reducing runoff and waste.
- reduce pollution by reducing fuel and lead emissions released into the environment.
- be conscious of what is getting into the environment by researching your own behavior.
- visit the Coral Reefs and, most importantly, tell others about the need of protecting them.
With every measure being taken by scientists, the Coral Reefs must not be allowed to go extinct. Due to global warming or otherwise.
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