The effects of climate change are real. Arctic ice is melting. Sea levels are rising. Coral reefs, among the most biologically rich and diverse ecosystems on the planet, are declining.
Coral reefs in many regions have been damaged by a process called bleaching. Rising ocean temperatures are considered the most likely cause. Warmer seas cause algae that live symbiotically with the coral to leave their host. The algae provide both nourishment and color to the coral. Without them, the coral bleach out.
“Many healthy, resilient coral reefs can withstand bleaching as long as they have time to recover,” said coral reef specialist Mark Eakin. “However, when you have repeated bleaching on a reef within a short period of time, it’s very hard for the corals to recover and survive.”
U.S. scientists monitor sea-surface temperatures and accurately predicted earlier bleaching events in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Fiji and American Samoa. Right now, coral reefs around the world are experiencing massive bleaching brought on by a warming ocean and a recent El Niño phenomenon.
Coral reefs provide many benefits and resources:
- Food sources for local communities.
- Nurseries for many world fisheries.
- Compounds used in medicines, including some that treat cancer.
- Natural barriers against hurricanes, typhoons and other storms.
The Nature Conservancy suggests ways you can protect coral:
- Conserve water. Less water use results in less runoff and wastewater washed into the oceans.
- Dispose of trash properly. Discarded trash contributes to water pollution and can damage delicate reef structures and wildlife. Don’t discard fishing lines or nets in the water or on the beach.
- Be a responsible boater/diver/snorkeler. Contact with coral will damage the delicate coral animals. Don’t anchor to it, touch it or walk on it.