Coral reefs are the epitome of mother nature’s beauty: their dazzling display of bright colors and crystal-like structures are a sight for sore eyes. But a rise in sea temperatures onset by global warming is mounting a serious threat to reefs worldwide. And the consequences don’t end there……
This is the tragic tale of climate change, the great coral reefs, and you & me.
It’s impossible to separate human health from the environment, and even though mankind has coexisted with nature’s organisms for thousands of years, our position at the top of the food chain has come at a great cost to species beyond our own. Until now that is. Coral reefs are under threat from climate change, and we may just end up paying the price.
Coral reefs are underwater ecosystems built by colonies of tiny animals found in marine water. They are home to 25% of all marine life on the planet and support as many organisms as the Amazon rainforest – wow! Here’s what else they do:
Provide our food supply: Coral reefs house a quarter of the ocean’s fish and are therefore vital to fisheries everywhere. Some estimates suggest that one billion people depend on coral reefs for food and income from fishing.
Protect us from storms: Coral reefs mitigate the effects of storms and tsunamis, reducing damage to the land. Their structure allows them to resist powerful waves, thereby preventing coastal erosion, flooding, and loss of property on the shore. According to the WWF, reefs save billions of dollars each year in insurance claims and reconstruction costs. On top of that, they reduce the risk to human life, a priceless asset.
Heal us: Coral reefs are a hotbed for natural compounds that could fight against diseases if developed into drugs. They are already being used in treatments for cancer and HIV.
Coral reefs exist in a symbiotic relationship with the tiny plants that reside in them. The plants (algae in most cases) photosynthesize and pass on food they make, to the coral, and in exchange, the coral provides nutrients to the algae.
However, this relationship is sensitive to climate change. Just a one-degree rise in the ocean temperature causes coral to expel the organisms it houses, turning it into the ‘bleached’ out shade below.
Bleaching makes coral far less likely to survive. Without algae, it loses its food supply and is more susceptible to disease.
Saving the coral:
Coral bleaching has detrimental effects both environmentally and economically. If continued, it poses a real risk to our food supply, storm survival rates, and hope for medicinal breakthroughs.
By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels which are major drivers of climate change, we can reduce the impact of bleaching in a big way. Building out low carbon economies that utilize renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, is a much-needed step in the right direction.
If we’re not careful, the loss of coral reef isn’t just a tragedy for the oceans, it’s a threat to our own existence.
As always, pushing for health.
Heade image Credit: SHWETHA LAVITHA VIA FLICKR