You may have seen the terms of ‘coral bleaching’ and ‘bleaching incident’ popping up in the news or heard about the threats to coral reefs. But what exactly do those terms mean and how serious is the issue? We will try to shed some light on the current state of coral reefs, the causes of their distress and on what can be done to diminish the threat to coral reef survival.
Since coral reefs are one of the most beautiful sights in the world, and the mysteries of marine life should get as much attention as the wonders of the surface, we encourage you to visit coral reefs as soon as you get the chance. Sadly, you may have only a short time left before coral reefs become extinct. Scientists say that the all coral reefs may likely be gone in 30 years from now, with about 50% of them being dead already.
Tourist activity is so heavily regulated and supervised these days that you don’t need to worry about damaging the reefs by visiting them. The only real cause of coral reef extinction is global warming, since corals are very sensitive to rises of temperature in the ocean’s water. The Great Barrier Reef, one of the most spectacular reef structures in the world, is easy to access from Cairns, Australia.
What does coral bleaching mean?
Some people may be mistaken to believe that coral bleaching is a phenomenon that only affects the coral’s intense colors, but otherwise leave them undamaged. Unfortunately, a bleaching of the corals is more or less like a human coma. It’s a catatonic state that the corals enter when the water temperatures have risen too high and they are about to die.
Coming back from a state of bleaching is possible for corals, but it is very hard, and it occurs rarely. It’s not just the temperature that needs to get back to a level ok for coral survival, but it’s also some myriad other factors that need to occur, as well as sheer luck.
Corals are not naturally colored in the vivid and beautiful shades you can admire when they are healthy. They acquire these colors through a symbiosis process, allowing algae to live inside them, both species receiving mutual benefits and energy from this co-habitation. When the temperatures in the water rise and the corals’ life is threatened, they expulse the algae out of them, as they are about to die.
Without the algae that gave them these beautiful colors, the colors become ‘bleached’ or white-looking. This is a phenomenon preceding total death, when the color of the coral reef becomes a dull grey, as their calcified structures slowly decay in the ocean.
What are the threats to coral reefs?
Scientists agree that at the moment, the only threat to the continued existence of coral reefs is global warming (and especially carbon emissions, since they are directly responsible for the temperature rise). Other potential damaging factors (like polluting emissions being spilled in the ocean waters and so on) have already been curved, but the thing corals are most sensitive too is temperature.
A rise of only 1 or 2 degrees above their range of habitual temperature can cause coral reefs to immediately enter a bleached state. Several coral reef systems are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and all of them will be completely dead by 2050 if global warming is not stopped.
What are the consequences of coral reef dying?
The world’s coral reefs are not only a sight of breath-taking beauty, but also the natural habitat of a quarter of the planet’s unique species. There are species of fish and other marine animals who cannot live anywhere else the world, and which will also be extinct when the corals die. This means the planet’s total biodiversity will be reduced by a staggering quarter, affecting other forms of life for the worse, too.
Coral reefs are also very important for the health and well-being of the human population, too. Not only do coral reefs produce an important quantity of the oxygen we breathe, but the sturdy underwater structures also diminish the destructive blow of storm waves. With the coral reefs dead and crumbling, countless coastal areas around the world will be more exposed to devastation via tsunamis and so on.
What can be done to curb coral reef extinction?
Not much can be done, sadly, unless the world really commits to reducing carbon emissions drastically in order to diminish global warming as much as possible. Scientists are still experimenting with innovative ways to help the reefs, though. According to Reef Nation, for example, one possible innovation may include a process similar with organ transplants for humans, or skin grafts.
Some experiments with attaching a healthy reef segment to a structure of bleached reefs have given scientists some hope of finding a revival procedure, but nothing is yet certain. Anyway, regardless of such operations, even revived or entirely healthy coral reefs will still die out if the oceans’ temperatures keep rising. The best thing to do is to try to diminish one’s carbon footprint as much as you can, and to go visit these amazing sites while it is still possible to see lively corals.