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Coral Reefs: How Long Do They Have Left?

Coral reefs are at a high risk of disappearing in the next century from coral bleaching

Coral Reef in Ocean

What is coral bleaching and what causes it?

The ocean covers 70% of our eco systems, and coral reefs provide a variety of ecosystem services such as, they safeguard coasts from storms and erosion, provide jobs for local populations, and give recreational possibilities. Over 500 million people rely on coral reefs for food, money, and protection.

Unfortunately, the coral reefs are suffering from severe mass coral bleaching. I myself had not heard about this until watching the documentary ‘Chasing Coral’ on Netflix. Coral bleaching occurs when coral loses its vivid colours and turns white. Coral tissue contains tiny algae called zooxanthellae, which is the primary source of food for coral and give it its colour. When the water temperature is warm coral expels the algae due to stress. Without the main source of food, the coral is left vulnerable and the colour fades until it appears bleached.

The main cause of coral bleaching is climate change, as greenhouse gases capture more solar energy, the seas absorb more heat, resulting an increase in the ocean temperature. There are also many other reasons that coral may bleach such as pollution, overfishing, excessive sunlight and incredibly low tides.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association...

"Between 2014 and 2017 around 75% of the world’s tropical coral reefs experienced heat-stress severe enough to trigger bleaching. For 30% of the world’s reefs, that heat-stress was enough to kill coral."

What does coral bleaching affect?

There are thousands of marine animals that rely on coral reefs to survive. Coral reefs offer refuge, breeding sites, and predator protection. They also provide food for species at the bottom of ocean food systems. As reef habitats deteriorate, already endangered species may go extinct. The article on Mindless Mag ‘Acidification’: Climate Changes Equally Evil Twin’ taught me the remaining sea life must handle 22 million tons of carbon dioxide a day with 75% of coral that’s already been destroyed from bleaching.

You would think that coral bleaching only affects wildlife, which is false. It affects humans too. There is a negative impact on people's livelihoods, food security, and safety. Reef tourism is a large part of the tourist industries in some countries and generates a lot of money each year and employs thousands of people. Bleached coral also contributes to the overfishing situation by destroying food web linkages and denying some fish and crustacean species a place to reproduce and mature. Lastly, coral reefs act as natural barriers, absorbing the energy of waves and protecting coastal towns. Without them, we must rely on man-made seawalls, which are costly, ineffective, and environmentally detrimental to build.

What can YOU do to help stop coral bleaching?

Now you have knowledge of coral bleaching and what causes it but what can we do to help protect the coral reefs? There are various things you can do to keep coral reefs healthy, whether you live close to the ocean or thousands of miles away. Here are some lifestyle changes that everyone can take into consideration:

  • Be energy efficient – We must minimise greenhouse gas emissions since climate change is the primary cause of coral bleaching. Installing renewable and energy efficient appliances into homes such as solar panels. Sometimes that may be too expensive so little things such as turning lights and electronics off when you aren’t using them at home and work.

  • Dispose waste properly – Waste pollution in the ocean is detrimental to the coral reefs. Waste that isn’t disposed in the right way can be washed away into waterways and oceans. Disposing of waste properly by recycling when at home, but not just then, in public there are now specific bins for different types of waste. When you go to a beach ensure you do not leave any waste, including cigarettes ends. Many communities have environmental organisations that run annual clean ups that you can get involved in! Festivals in the UK produce around 23,500 tons of waste each year. That’s why I volunteered with Reading Festival Green Team in 2022 to help with the clean up after the festival, especially as there is a river nearby that waste will be washed into. When I arrived there was a sea of abandoned tents and rubbish left behind which was devastating to think that people don’t care about the environment.

  • Conserve water and reduce storm run off – The less water you use, the less runoff and wastewater goes back into the ocean to prevent water pollution. This doesn’t mean stop showering! Water catchments and rain barrels can be installed into homes to collect rainwater that would otherwise be discharged into a storm drain.

  • Lastly, spread the word! – Just by reading this article you are already gained knowledge about coral bleaching and there is so much more to learn. You can share your learned awareness with your friends, family and local community to make people mindful of what is happening to the beautiful coral reefs and what they can do to help.

This coral bleaching crisis is happening whilst you are reading this article. By making these small adjustments to your lifestyle, we can make a big difference!

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