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When was the first time you saw a coral reef?
Why are coral reefs so important?
- Buffering shorelines from energy from waves, storms, and floods
- Source of many medical compounds used in pharmaceuticals
- Support fisheries
- Cultural value for many communities worldwide
- Home to many marine organisms
- Supporting local economies through tourism and recreation
- High biodiversity
- Food production
What is the biggest threat to coral reefs?
Warmer waters and increased frequency and intensity of marine heatwaves are triggering global coral bleaching events. In addition to this, as oceans absorb carbon dioxide they become more acidic. This is a problem for marine organisms, like corals, that build a calcium carbonate skeleton. In more acidic water, the ability for corals to build their skeleton becomes compromised: Quite simply they need to invest more energy to sustain their skeletons or otherwise lose their structural integrity.
Climate change is also changing the oxygen content of seawater and increasing the frequency and intensity of storms that can physically damage the reef. Without immediate action, we risk losing functional coral reefs, at least as we know them, within out lifetime.
What is coral bleaching?
Corals are animals that live in harmony with microscopic algae (commonly called zooxanthallae) that act as solar cells for the coral, producing energy by absorbing sunlight. Unfortunately, this relationship can break down under stressful conditions, causing corals to expel their microalgae, the sign of stress we know as “coral bleaching”. Corals typically survive within a narrow range of environmental conditions [e.g., light, temperature pH (acidity) and salinity], which are critical to sustain optimum growth. However, accelerating human impacts are changing the world’s oceans, requiring corals to survive under conditions that are suboptimal. Many coral reefs worldwide are therefore now in a state of change as they attempt to keep pace with environmental change and successfully function under new conditions.
Ocean Acidification Facts
- Each year the oceans absorb 25 percent of all carbon dioxide that we emit.
- The ocean pH is around 8.1 (which is actually slightly alkaline) and is predicted to drop to 7.8 (still slightly alkaline) by 2100.
- The oceans are nearly 30 percent more acidic than they were at the start of the industrial revolution.
- By the year 2100, it is predicted that the oceans could be 100 to 150 percent more acidic.
What can individuals do to help the future survival of coral reefs?
We can all make a difference to the future of coral reefs by looking at ways to minimise our impact on the environment. For example, by reducing waste and recycling, cutting our carbon footprint, educating ourselves on the environmental challenges and available solutions, and importantly voting in representatives that have a commitment to act on climate change and preserve and restore our environments to ensure a more sustainable future.