Imagine living on a beautiful beach, where the sun is always warm, water is always a vibrant blue, and life is always great. Until one day you lose everything to a flood. Then imagine finding out the flood was caused because the coral reef is dying and can no longer do its job to protect others. Should you be upset at the coral reef for failing to protect the coastal beaches, or should you be upset at those who are failing to protect the coral reef? The coral reef is a ridge of rock in the sea formed by the growth and deposit of coral. But to some, like fish, small sea creatures, birds and the several million people living in the U.S. coastal areas, the coral reef isn’t just a ridge of rock. To them the coral reef is a barrier protecting the coasts from waves, storms, and floods helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion as well as supply food and protection to sea creatures (US Department of Commerce). Coral reefs support a huge amount of small sea life, which in turn supports both large sea life and people, not only for immediate food needs but also economically. Today, 50% of our great barrier reef is dead or dying. So what is killing our coral reefs and what can we do to save them? Coral reefs are being killed by an accumulation of stresses because of human activities. Global warming and climate change, pollution, and overfishing are some of the main causes for the death of the great barrier reef.
Global warming is an increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants and is the primary cause of coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is a phenomenon affecting coral reefs by which they lose their natural color as a result of high water temperatures or other environmental stressors such as pollutants. Global warming is causing drastic coral bleaching. Many physiological responses in present-day coral reefs to climate change are interpreted as consistent with the imminent disappearance of modern reefs globally because of annual mass bleaching events, carbonate dissolution, and insufficient time for substantial evolutionary responses (Pandolfi, John M). Bleaching occurs when corals respond to the stress of warmer temperatures by expelling the colorful algae that live within them. Some coral are able to recover, but too often the coral dies, and the entire ecosystem virtually disappears (Global Warming and Coral Reefs). Because of global warming the water is getting increasingly warmer every day and producing carbon dioxide which coral reefs are taking in and dying over.
Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies caused by human activities, which can be harmful to organisms and plants which live in these water bodies. Coral reefs are exposed to many stresses increasing in impact and range on both local and regional scales. Some of the stresses are; nutrient enrichment, sewage disposal, sedimentation, oil-related pollution, metals and thermal pollution (DUBINSKY, ZVY). An increasing amount of pollution is from on-land activity. “As human populations expand in coastal areas, development alters the landscape, increasing runoff from land. Runoff often carries large quantities of sediment from land-clearing, high levels of nutrients from agricultural areas and sewage outflows, and pollutants such as petroleum products and pesticides” (US Department of Commerce). Due to all the pollution coral reefs are dying because the water is so contaminated.
Overfishing is when fisherman deplete the stock of fish in a body of water by too much fishing. Ecological extinction caused by overfishing precedes all other pervasive human disturbance to coastal ecosystems (Jackson, Jeremy B.C.). Overfishing is no longer a deep sea threat. Now, overfishing is starting in our coral reefs with key reef species. Because of overfishing, the reef’s ecological balance and biodiversity is being affected. Overfishing of herbivorous fish can also lead to high levels of algal growth (Status of and Threat to Coral Reefs). Algae is actually very good for coral reefs, but too much of a good thing can be bad for corals. Too much algae in corals along with climate change expels the algae out of the coral during coral bleaching resulting in widespread death of coral reefs (Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad for Corals).
With coral reefs rapidly dying and hundreds of people and species lives in the hands of coral reefs there are a fair amount of people looking for solutions. One solution that is currently in the process is helping corals acclimate to the climate change quicker than they are. In order for corals to stay alive they need to adapt to the waters during climate change. Adult corals are finding to be the best at acclimating in certain circumstances. The younger corals are the ones that seem to be taking longer resulting in them dying. In order for a coral to acclimate, their symbiont type has to dominate the tissue changing them from Symbiodinium type C to D. So what they are doing in this study is changing the symbiont type in corals to type D, the most thermally resistant type known so they adapt to climate change. In turn, this solution will help them survive climate change, pollution and if fisherman stop overfishing it will also help with overfishing, by harboring algae. This solution will not fix the problem in the long run but it will give us the time we need while greenhouse reduction measures are put in place (Berkelmans, Ray).
Berkelmans, Ray, and Madeleine J.H Van Oppen. “The Role of Zooxanthellae in the Thermal Tolerance of Corals: A ‘nugget of Hope’ for Coral Reefs in an Era of Climate Change.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. The Royal Society, 22 Sept. 2006.
The key findings from this study was the role of zooxanthellae in thermal tolerance of corals. The article discusses one solution they have tried to help coral reefs live through climate change. I used this study to show what solution they can use to help save the coral reef.
DUBINSKY, ZVY, and NOGA STAMBLER. “Marine Pollution and Coral Reefs.” Global Change Biology. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 27 Apr. 2006.
The key findings from this study were the marine pollution on coral reefs. The article discusses the causes of pollution and goes in depth on each pollutant. I used this study in my essay to show what types of pollution there is and what they are doing to the coral reef.
“Global Warming and Coral Reefs.” National Wildlife Federation. NWF, n.d
They key findings from this study were global warming on coral reefs. This article talks about the coral reef habitat, benefits for human and wildlife, threats from global warming, and more. I used this study in my essay to show what global warming is doing to our coral reefs.
Jackson, Jeremy B. C., at al. “Historical Overfishing and the Recent Collapse of Coastal Ecosystems.” Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 27 July 2001.
The key findings from this study were overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. This article talks about ecological extinction. I used this study to show some of the effects overfishing has on the coral reefs.
Pandolfi, John M., Sean R. Connolly, Dustin J. Marshall, and Anne L. Cohen. “Projecting Coral Reef Futures Under Global Warming and Ocean Acidification.” Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 22 July 2011.
The key findings from this study were coral reef futures under global warming and ocean acidification. The article talks about mass coral bleaching, carbonate dissolution, and global warming. I used this study to show how global warming is affecting the coral reefs.
“Status of and Threat to Coral Reefs.” Status of and Threat to Coral Reefs | International Coral Reef Initiative. ICRI, n.d.
The key findings from this study are the status of and threat to coral reefs. The article talks about why the coral reef is threatened, and some of the different things we’re doing to damage coral reefs. I used this study to show what exactly overfishing does to the coral reef.
“Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad for Corals.” Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science – University of Miami. University of Miami, 16 Oct. 2012.
The key findings from this study were how Nature Climate Change shows that having too many algal symbionts makes corals bleach more severely in response to warming as well as why too much of something good can be bad for coral reefs. I used this study to show how and why too much algae can be bad for the coral reef.
US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “How Do Coral Reefs Protect Lives and Property?” NOAA’s National Ocean Service. NOAANOS, 01 Mar. 2014.
The key findings from this study were how coral reefs protect lives and property. The article explains what they do, how they do it, and why the coral reefs life depends on the safety of others. I used this study in my essay to show who the coral reef protects and one of the reasons why we need to save the coral reef.
US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “NOAA Visions Article on Coral Reef Conservation.” NOAA 200th. NOAA, 12 Dec. 2006.
The key findings from this study was on how pollution affects coral reefs. The article talks about land based pollution sources and marine debris. I used this article to show some of the effects pollution has on the coral reef.