Featured Image Credit: Inverse
Coral reefs are an integral part of the life in the ocean. They’re way more than just something pretty for snorkelers and divers to look at. They’re like cities in the ocean, supporting a diverse spectrum of marine life. However, these amazing ecosystems are in danger because of human-made climate change. The threat lies in a phenomenon known as “bleaching.”
Bleaching occurs when the water is too warm for the algae that sustain the coral. When the algae are gone, there is no way for the coral to receive nutrients so it loses its color. The symbiotic relationship between the coral and the algae is even more fragile than once thought, and coral is temperamental. If the algae are gone for too long then the organisms living in the coral will die.
What are the consequences of such a loss? When we lose coral, we lose the species that live in the reefs, such as shrimps, crabs, and other small animals. When these are gone, the bigger fish have no prey, and then eventually the fish bigger than them have no prey and so on until it reaches the human food chain.
Bleaching used to be fairly uncommon, only occurring in reefs about once every few decades. Now bleaching can occur as frequently as every six years. The difference is human-made climate change. Even if the coral reefs have a chance to recover from severe bleaching, there isn’t enough time to reestablish the reef before the next bleaching occurs.
Check out Awesome Ocean’s interview with Jeff Orlowski, director of award-winning climate change Netflix documentaries Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral, and Outreach Coordinator Zack Rago talk about the impact of coral bleaching and what’s being done about it.
To stop coral reef bleaching from happening so often, people have to come together and do something about climate change. The future of coral reefs depends on it, and, ultimately, the future of mankind depends on it. We’ll lose more than something pretty to look at, we’ll lose a vital ecosystem.