Global Warming is Killing Coral Reefs

Global Warming – is it Real?

It is safe to say that global warming and climate change are real and are just conspiracy theories. It is also definitely not something made up just so that a certain party could benefit off it. Global warming poses real threats, threats that may not be too conspicuous for us to perceive daily. Nevertheless, the threat is tangible. Furthermore, scientific investigations are able to back it up. Despite solid and irrefutable evidence to prove the existence of global warming, non-believers still do exist. Flat-earthers alike, it is mind-boggling that some people still claim climate change is just a hoax.

Cause of Climate Change?

A large majority of climate scientists came to a consensus that the “greenhouse effect” is the main cause of climate change and global warming. The aforementioned effect occurs when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space. Particular gases and molecules in the atmosphere are responsible for blocking heat from escaping. The typical ones are water vapour, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane.

A layer of greenhouse gases – primarily water vapour and including smaller amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – acts as a thermal blanket for the Earth, absorbing heat and warming the surface to a life-supporting average of 15 degrees Celsius. [Source]

Human Activity – Main catalyst for Climate Change

On Earth, human activities are rapidly changing the natural greenhouse. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there is a more than 95 % probability that human activities over the past five decades have warmed our planet. As the industrial revolution took place decades ago, the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In addition, plenty of deforestation and land clearing activities occurred for various developments. This in turn triggered the increase in concentration of greenhouse gases.

How does it affect us?

Global climate change already had discernible effects on the environment. Glaciers melted and shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up rapidly, flora and fauna ranges shifted and trees are flowering sooner. As a result, sea levels will rise, global temperatures will increase, more intense heat waves and droughts will occur, etc.

Potential effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms. [Source]

Climate Change and Coral Reefs

The coral is neither a rock nor a plant, but an animal. This fascinating animal composes thousands of tiny invertebrates called polyps, which can be anything from a few millimetres to several centimetres wide. These reefs are major supports for many marine ecosystems. Hence, it is not surprising to see that their decline is triggering major concerns worldwide. In the past three years, approximately a fifth of all coral on Earth died. Furthermore, experts believe that there is now just half the amount of coral that was in the oceans 40 years ago. The northern third of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef lost more than a third of its coral since 2015. This is very alarming as such a massive wipe out occurred in a span of just 3 years.

Corals are very sensitive to any change in water temperature. Hence, rising sea temperatures due to global warming are indubitably the biggest reason for their death. In particular, this warming ruins the symbiosis between the coral and its main food source, the microalgae that live inside its tissue. In warming seas, the microalgae overproduce sugars and toxins. This leads to coral polyps to reject them and spit them out. Without microalgae, corals die of starvation and turn white, in a process known as bleaching. To make matters worse, the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also increases the acidity of seawater. This complicates the process for corals to generate the calcium carbonate they need for their skeletal structure.

Dying coral reefs in the ocean. [Source]

A Healthy Ocean Depends on Reefs

Coral reefs limit shoreline erosion and reduce the intensity and destruction of storms. Not just that, they provide food and shelter of countless marine life that feeds millions of people. Hence, it is easy to imagine that the total collapse of coral reef ecosystems would bring about devastating consequences. Estimates are that up to 80 % of the oxygen we take for granted comes from the ocean. It does not come from land. In order for us to continue to breathe, we need to have a healthy ocean.

A last ditch effort to save reefs?

The clock is ticking, and scientists worldwide are rushing to come up with ways to save reefs. Numerous efforts involve identifying corals that are particularly resilient to heat or acidity. Following this include pioneering ways to rapidly regrow corals so that dying reefs can be repopulated. Meanwhile, other researchers are trying to use genetic engineering to the same end. However, some experts worry about such interference. They claim that a coral created for heat tolerance might have other fatal issues, such as a greater vulnerability to viruses. Nevertheless, the opposition to such breeding is weakening as corals need all the help they can get.

Scientists studying coral reefs [Source]

In a nutshell, it goes without saying that we would like our future generations to be able to enjoy the resources that we enjoyed. Scuba diving to view coral reefs might be fun, but we should be more conscious to what we do daily that might directly or indirectly fuel climate change.

Written by Mitchell Lim

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