I have Thalassophobia, which is a fear of the ocean. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I am deathly afraid of everything in the ocean; that’s right, even dolphins. Despite my fear, I appreciate that each species plays a vital role in ocean ecosystems- no matter how creepy they look. Unfortunately, ocean ecosystems are deteriorating as a result of climate change- coral reefs in particular. As freaked out as I am by the ocean, I don’t feel good knowing that the coral reefs are suffering as a result of my lifestyle… and neither should you.
Coral reefs play a similar role to trees, only under water. They provide a foundation upon which many species, both plants and animals, benefit. Coral reefs serve as a refuge for animals hiding from predators. Coral reefs are also an excellent place to lay eggs. Nutrient recycling is a huge role of coral reefs, as well as their input of food to the food-chain. These reefs span a distance of over 280,000 km2, so you can see how the death of coral reef results in a loss of habitat for the tens of thousands of species who occupy the coral reef.
Coral reefs are very sensitive to temperature changes. A rise in ocean temperature of over 2°C will result in the death of coral reef. An increase in ocean temperature also affects the types of bacteria that live in coral reefs. Much like our stomach, that contains healthy bacteria that help us digest food, coral reefs contain bacteria that help with nutrient recycling. Heat causes these bacteria to weaken, and coral reefs become susceptible to harmful bacteria that cause disease. Coral bleaching occurs when the algae that covers coral reefs is shed due to temperature change. Algae supplies coral reefs with nutrients, and without it, they turn white and die.
“If climate change is not stopped, coral bleaching is set to steadily increase in frequency and intensity all over the world until it occurs annually by 2030—2070.” Greenpeace
Climate change is not the only thing contributing to coral reef death. Fish markets have introduced damaging fishing practices, such as bombs and cyanide, which is harmful for coral reefs. The development of coastal regions affects the coral reef when rock and sand have been mined past sustainable limits. This proves that coral reef death is completely human-induced, which is ironic, because 500 million people worldwide depend on the coral reef for food. Coral reefs are also economically beneficial for the tourism industry and reef fishing. It all comes back to us in the end.
The good news is that it is not too late to save the coral reefs. Coral bleaching can be prevented if it is mild and localized, which allows the coral reef sufficient time to recover. Coral reef conservation can be problematic because of their grandeur. Marine Protected Areas are used to protect and restore coral reefs from coastal management and reef fisheries. Scientists observe how these processes occur during expeditions and research, which will be the key to coral reef restoration.
As much as they unnerve me, I don’t want to see the coral reefs go. For more information on the conservation of coral reefs, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.