Rise In Ocean Temperatures Stressing Corals
by Samantha Mergenthaler
Every year millions of tourists across the world strap on scuba gear and leap into tropical waters ready to explore one of the most breathtaking natural habitats on earth: Coral Reefs. Like an underwater Mardi Gras celebration, the reef is home to some of natures most vibrant color pallets and most peculiar architecture. Divers swim among the ‘locals’—googly-eyed crustaceans and tropical fish colored like rare gems. Many of these species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Witnessing this magnificent ecosystem can be the experience of a lifetime, and it is an experience in danger of disappearing.
How Corals Are Affected By Climate Change
Over fishing, pollution, and climate change have increased carbon dioxide levels in ocean water internationally, and in the past century this has caused major changes in the basic properties of ocean water. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the increased carbon dioxide levels of the water have caused global ocean surface temperatures to rise by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This rise in the water temperature increases the metabolism of the colorful algae living in and protecting the coral, and this strains the coral hosting the algae. In response the coral can expel the algae leaving its white exoskeleton exposed and leaving the coral vulnerable to disease. Scientists call this process Coral Bleaching.
Marine biologists and conservationists grow more and more concerned by the effects of the increased levels of carbon dioxide. Reports show a forty percent decline in coral reefs over the past twenty years in the Florida Keys area and an eighty percent decrease in the reefs of the Caribbean. With no signs that these declines will correct themselves in the future, coral reefs are quickly becoming an endangered ecosystem
Food Chain Effects Can Be A Slippery Slope
These quickly expanding coral graveyards demand to be seen as a serious problem. Coral is the base of a very complex food chain and if it continues to die and decay the affects will span all the way up to our own economies and standards of living. In a report recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it was shown that in 2011, 29,000 jobs and $3.3 billion in sales were generated from saltwater fishing off the east coast of Florida.
This is but a snapshot of what the effects may be down the line. As the coral reefs disappear, so too will the fish, and without the fish, the lifeblood of the coastal economy, we could well see the Florida economy suffer. But it’s not just Florida; reports show that by the year 2050, from Jamaica to Haiti and even in Australia where reefs are nationally protected, virtually all of the world’s coral reefs will be in danger. For the 1 billion people who depend on fish as their primary source of protein, the ramifications would be devastating.