Let’s Talk About Our Planet, Pt.3 : Coral Reefs – Function and Destruction

Let’s Talk About Our Planet, Pt.3 

Coral Reefs : Function and Destruction

In today’s world, headlines of news articles, blogs, and magazines seem to dominate as the main context to inform the general public. This is to say that when people see a headline of something they don’t fully understand, but don’t have the time to, they tend to go directly with the headline, and move on without reading the article.

This is not to generalize all people, but simply an observation I’ve made among people I know, and others I’ve spoken to online. The headline is good enough for most when it comes to subjects of deep thinking, research, and understanding. This is completely normal, considering that unless you know the basics of science, most scientific articles will overwhelm you and leave you confused. So you go with the summary, and move on, feeling somewhat satisfied to learn something new, although still a bit unsure about it.

This is the whole reason why I’ve decided to do this series in the first place – to break things down so they are a bit easier to understand, so we can all be more scientifically literate. That way, we can all contribute to the conversation about serious issues, such as Climate Change and the like, and push to make a real change and better world for the future. You can check out my first article debunking misconceptions of Climate Change here. Part two, explaining the basics of Climate Change, can be read here.

This sentiment also goes for being politically literate (any other kind of literate, for that matter).

I’m rambling now. What’s the point of mentioning headlines?

I mention them because in the headlines recently, there’s been talk about coral reefs. You will see these segments posted all over social media from places like CNN, VICE, NBC, and so on.  But I doubt very many have looked into the subject matter of why corals are important, and how devastating the affects of coral bleaching really is.

Let’s begin breaking it down.

First, here’s a picture of a bleached coral commonly known as Elk Horn, when compared to another healthy one of the same species:

elkhorn

That’s a good physical illustration of what’s happening, but what does it all mean?

What is coral bleaching?

To start understanding coral bleaching, we need to look at carbon dioxide, and how it affects PH levels in the ocean.

Carbon dioxide, when absorbed into the water, reacts to become carbonic acid, through the process of *1chemical equilibrium. Carbon molecules react with water in a destructive manner, increasing hydrogen and bicarbonate ions, which leads to lower potential hydrogen (PH), and lower alkaline in the water. This causes ocean acidification; something I will cover in the next article, as it is an extensive topic in and of itself.

Because of acidification, and the shift in temperatures of the ocean as a result, corals have started to expel the algae living on their surface, leading to coral bleaching. When a coral becomes bleached, it undergoes a detrimental change. The growth rate of the coral diminishes, along with their reproductive value. They become more susceptible to disease, and die off much quicker.

As of right now, Climate Change researchers from NOAA (U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) predict that over 12,000 km of corals will be lost by the end of 2015…and we are almost at the end of 2015, and we were almost at the end when this prediction came out just over a month ago.

So what does this loss in coral reef mean for us, and the environment we depend on?

Well, coral reefs are one of the prime producers of nourishment for over 2000 ocean-based organisms that other fish depend on, and that we depend on. Through the process of *2bio-erosion, corals are also responsible for a large amount of beach sand that we all enjoy, and that amphibious organisms and microorganisms depend on.

Lifeforms that live on or around corals, depend on them for basic necessities like food, shelter and recruitment habitats. Change in both abundance and composition of these organisms is expected as more corals become bleached. Genetic diversity and species diversity of the ocean is expected to change, leading to more ripple effects that impact organisms both on land and in the water. On a large scale view, over 25 percent of all ocean life depends on the health and abundance of coral reefs.

This is going to influence our food supply directly, through the migration of marine life that many fishermen depend on. The migration will push fish to further areas and into tighter spaces, leaving many to die from overpopulation and lack of subsidence. Corals are also a resource that many pharmaceutical drugs depend on to make up their compounds; all the way from cancer medications to your simple pill of Advil.

Currently, over 100 million people depend directly on coral fish to sustain their communities. The real number of affected people is much higher when you consider all factors and functions involved. Not to mention all the other environmental influences that combine with it.

Summing it up, the loss in coral life from the increase of carbon dioxide absorbed is devastating to a significant portion of life on the planet in the long run. Especially if the intense rate of coral bleaching continues in the current trend.

Ok, so this is kinda depressing news, right?

I mean, what can we really do about it?

There isn’t too much we can do individually, besides reducing our personal use of emissions as much as possible. And there isn’t much we can do about the trend that is currently going, other than attempt to decrease the amount of carbon being absorbed, which doesn’t have much real influence when you consider how far into this we already are. It is still important – we shouldn’t be rubbing salt into an already puss filled wound – but it won’t ultimately solve the issue of ocean acidification.

What we can do, in addition to lowering carbon emissions, is find the problem areas that we think are going to be most affected by coral bleaching, both in human impacts and environmental impacts. Then we do what we can in accordance to the findings.

For example, if a large population of people are depending on a nearby mass of corals for their food supply, you can create a new abundance of food by installing vertical farms, or something of the like to make up for that loss. We also need to look into different ways to replenish the corals, or even breed a more resistant form. This is where playing with genetics could be beneficial to everyone.

DNews goes over the subject of genetically modifying corals, here:

At the end of this series (and I’m not sure how long it will be at this point), I will be releasing a set of solutions that I feel would help us combat the issues of climate change. For now, we will be going over all the issues and details of the subject itself.

So don’t get depressed that there isn’t an answer. That’s why we have these discussions, and write about these things in the first place. So we can all work together to find one.

I hope this article helped you understand Climate Change better, and if it did, please share it and be sure to subscribe to the blog. Any bit of support helps and is greatly appreciated.

As always, thanks for reading.

-Adam Gainer

*1 the process of making the reaction of all elements involved equal, leading to reversibility , which, in turn, leads to all elements becoming constant.

*2 the process of expelling calcium carbonate substrate (e.g. limestone, aragonite, etc) by biological elements.

 

Sources:

http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/coralreefs5.html

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html

http://www.reefresilience.org/coral-reefs/stressors/bleaching/bleaching-impacts/

http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/08/us/global-coral-bleaching-report/

http://www.teachoceanscience.net/teaching_resources/education_modules/coral_reefs_and_climate_change/how_does_climate_change_affect_coral_reefs/

http://centerforadvancedhealth.com/default.asp.pg-ImportanceofmaintainingaproperPhlevel

http://www.thebigger.com/chemistry/free-energy-and-chemical-equilibria/define-chemical-equilibrium-with-example/

~~~

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