Most of us have heard that the coral reefs are in trouble, but no one seems to really know why.
It’s because of bleaching.
Warmer water temperatures can result in coral bleaching. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.
In 2005, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event. The warm waters centered around the northern Antilles near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico expanded southward. Comparison of satellite data from the previous 20 years confirmed that thermal stress from the 2005 event was greater than the previous 20 years combined.
The new phenomenon of global coral bleaching events is caused by ocean warming (93% of climate change heat is absorbed by the ocean). Corals are unable to cope with today’s prolonged peaks in temperatures – they simply haven’t been able to adapt to the higher base temperatures of the ocean.
Reefs only make up less than 1 percent of Earth’s undersea ecosystems, but they are super important:
- They shelter 25 percent of marine species,
- protect shorelines,
- support fishing industries,
- provide tourist dollars—and
- could be home to the next big, undiscovered medical breakthrough.
Scientists are working on increasing the likelihood that reefs can recover when faced with adversity, like climate change.
We can help.
- Try walking, biking or taking public transportation instead of driving.
- Plant a tree and support forest conservation! Trees store carbon and reduce agricultural run-off, which may ultimately end up in the ocean.
- Contact your local legislators, and tell them you support comprehensive climate legislation.
By reducing our carbon footprint we help more than just ourselves. By reducing the amount of greenhouse gases we produce, we can help the earth from the very top at the North Pole, to the very bottom at the Great Barrier Reef.