Monday, March 21, 2016

Climate Change on Coral Reefs

Coral Reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the ocean. They are often called the rainforests of the ocean. Corals only cover one-tenth of the ocean floor but they are homes and shelter to 25 percent of known marine species (Chicago Tribune).  Coral reefs act as a natural breakwater for strong waves and storms. They also provide food and a job for many millions of people and have a huge tourism revenue (New York Times). Even though corals are important to people, humans have the greatest threat to the coral reefs. Humans are destroying the reefs with pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, and contributing to global warming. One of the greatest stressors is the rise in ocean temperatures.  (Ocean Portal)
When the ocean temperatures rise is causes the coral reef polyps to expel their symbiotic photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae making the corals turn white. This process is called coral bleaching. The zooxanthellae provide the reef with its bright colors and 70 % of their nutrients. (LA Times) Since the return of El Nino in the Pacific Ocean and the effects of climate change the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just declared the third global coral bleaching event in history (LA Times). Even In the Great Barrier Reef in Australia which one of the most highly protected areas in the world has seen a 50 % decline in reefs in the last 50 years (The New York Times). There were 2,600 of marine scientists gathering for the International Coral Reef Symposium conference and there they talked about ways to stop of the degradation of reefs. (New York Times) Recent studies in Hawaii have shown that corals that have been bleached before and survived are weak and it is harder for them to withstand warm temperatures in the future. (Chicago Tribune)  Some Local actions have occurred in order to save the reefs such as rebuilding fish stocks, reducing harmful runoff and establishing more marine protected areas (New York Times).
There has been a species found that can protect itself against rising temperatures and ocean acidification.  The researchers have found that the species Porities cylindrica contains a calcifying fluid that helps it maintain a pH level that is not influenced by the pH level in the water. This fluid helps the coral to grow and strive when the ocean is acidic. This species can be found at the Heron Island Lagoon and the Great Barrier Reef. They stated that the nest step in the research is to find out if the species from other environments have the mechanisms to survive in the acidic ocean. A researcher stated, “We also need to explore whether rising sea temperatures impacts their ability to maintain a constant internal pH level.” (Marine Science Today).

Actions are taking place in order to help save the reefs from rising sea temperatures. Help has to start somewhere and if nothing takes place the world might just see its last brightly colored coral reef.


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