CAUSES: Our Dying Corals

A canary in the coal mine

Photo courtesy of Nat. Geo.

Not many people pay attention to coral reefs, and why would they? Many of us live inland, and many of us live on coasts that do not harbor coral habitats. However, our corals reefs are dying.

When we see coral it is usually through TV, through educational programming, or the random trip to a local aquarium (if we are lucky enough to live by one). As human beings, we often pay attention to what is relative to ourselves and environment. Our immediate environment to be more specific. This is of no fault of our own, it’s part of the human condition. Until our way of life changes we typically do not pay attention to the larger impact our actions can have, like climate change, pollution of our oceans, and the death of our coral reefs.

The reefs aren’t dying because they feel like it, they are dying because of human caused climate change. We as humans have been using fossil fuels recklessly, and continue to do so. If our current approach to the fossil fuel continues we are going to continue to lose world heritage sites, and reefs are just a start.

That is where education comes into play. Education allows us to break barriers and study new fields, and new worlds we could never dream of or know about.

For instance did you know some corals actually eat meat, AND photosynthesize. On top of that they build structures around themselves for protection! There are various types of corals but 3 stick out the most. They are as follows:

SPS — Small Polyp Stony Corals.

In general, the Small Polyp-ed Stony corals have small polyps on a calcareous skeleton.

LPS — Large Polyp Stony.

Large Polyp Stony Corals are generally larger calcareous corals with large fleshy polyps.

Soft Coral — Soft Coral have no skeleton.

Soft Corals are soft bodied and spread very quick. They are very hardy, as far as corals go.

Each one of these types of coral could have a dissertation written on it (in fact most have had dissertations written on them). We are not going into too much depth here but it is worthy to note that each coral has specific needs that have to be met to survive.

These corals do have some needs in common though, specifically, water parameters. These water parameters fall within varying amounts and can change over time, but one thing that is paramount to coral health and longevity is a stable environment. Corals can be sensitive and finicky, but they can also be hardy in some instances.

For example, if water temperatures swing for a few hours corals will not die. They may become upset, but they will not perish. Another parameter that is semi flexible is salinity, or the amount of salt dissolved in water.

What corals do NOT tolerate are prolonged changes in water. When changes in water occur, and continue to occur, corals tend to become stressed. When the corals do stress they release their zooanthellae. These algae are the corals primary food source and give them their color. When corals bleach they are in fact losing this algae as seen in the diagram below. The coral is still alive, but it is not happy. If the bleaching lasts a long time the coral will eventually die.

Image sourced from NOAA

Corals are a canary in the coalmine. They are letting us know the world is warming, and the climate is changing. Corals reefs will not be the only ecosystems that suffer in the future if human beings do not make an intentional shift in our consumption of fossil fuels. People who depend on the oceans will also be affected by climate change. A staggering amount of people live near coasts.

Presently about 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast. As population density and economic activity in the coastal zone increases, pressures on coastal ecosystems increase.

We, as a species need to change our habits, our lifestyles, and the way we think of our place in the world.

It can be hard to take ourselves out of our everyday lives, but we can have a positive impact and change on the planet. It starts with education, and action.

You as an individual can make a difference. National Geographic outlines 10 things a individual can do to help save the oceans:

  1. Mind Your Carbon Footprint and Reduce Energy Consumption
  2. Make Safe, Sustainable Seafood Choices
  3. Use Fewer Plastic Products
  4. Help Take Care of the Beach
  5. Don’t Purchase Items That Exploit Marine Life
  6. Be an Ocean-Friendly Pet Owner
  7. Support Organizations Working to Protect the Ocean
  8. Influence Change in Your Community
  9. Travel the Ocean Responsibly
  10. Educate Yourself About Oceans and Marine Life

Read more on the National Geographic website.

Number 10 really sticks out here, it all comes down to education. Go out and see ocean life for yourself! Chances are there is a local aquarium nearby, or even a fish store! We have the power to change the world, each as an individual. Your impact matters, lets clean up the oceans and preserve our ecosystems while we still can.

The future is bright, together we can make it that much brighter.

(And colorful. Look at these corals! Who wouldn’t want to save these?!)

From left to right: SPS, LPS and Soft Corals
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