Tag Archives: coral bleaching

The Card Called Coral Reefs

Over the summer, I took an environmental communications class for my racial issues graduation requirement. I learned a multitude of information on climate change and its effects. The first thing the professor has us do was watch a documentary that talked about climate change (CC). I watched a documentary called Chasing Coral, it was released to the public on Netflix in 2017. The premise was to find out why the coral was turning white, to which they coined this phenomenon as bleaching.

The whitening of coral in the Great Barrier Reef in the year 2016. Chasing Coral

After some research and sampling, they found that the coral was bleaching from water temperature increase. They discovered this when they increased the test water samples 2°C (3.6°F) more and thus caused the test corals to whiten. They understood that when people heard this seemingly insignificant change in temperature the majority would brush of their urgency (I am guilty as well). They told us to look at it this way:

You as a human being have a regulated body temperature of ~98.6°F (37°C). Now imagine increasing that temperature 2/3.6 degrees more, we are talking 102.2°F (39°C) temperatures. These are very sick to fatal numbers and that is exactly what is happening to the coral. That white you see, that is the corals skeleton.

The team of divers and photographers set out between the years of 2014-2017 to capture and record the worlds most severe bleaching event in recorded history. They found out that 75% of corals suffered or died from heat stress brought on by climate change in those years alone.

In the documentary, there was a Coral Reef Biologist named Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and he was talking about how everything in the world is connected. There we are pulling out this card called “coral reefs” and discarding it. He wonders how many cards will be discarded before everything collapse. How many cards will be pulled out before we notice? And how many before it’s too late?

Everything in white represents what would get effected with the extinction of coral reefs.

Near the end, they concluded that 67% of the northern region of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) was dead. This is equivalent to losing most of the trees between Washington D.C. to Maine. The GBR experienced its fourth mass bleaching this March; I will save you the heartache from those statistics.

That is when I came across this Tik Tok from an organization called Coral Gardeners. They found a breakthrough, creating “super corals” that is resilient to CC stressors. They are, quite literally, coral gardeners. This organization goes out and dives into their gardens of coral and raises them to be healthy enough to withstand CC and aid existing (or barely existing) reefs.

It made me so happy to know that there are people out there trying to help conserve these corals reefs and make them stronger. It is unfortunate that it has to come to this.

Coral Gardeners Website | Chasing Coral Website | Chasing Coral Documentary

2: The effects El Nino has on coral bleaching

Coral reefs are dying. In the last four decades the amount of bleaching rose from 8% in the 1980s to 31% in 2016.

El Nino

Since 1980, 58% of bleaching were recorded during strong periods of El Nino.  It was noted that in February of 2019, El Nino is officially back. El Nino is a natural phenomenon that typically peaks between October and March and happens every two to seven years. They have the ability to cause rising sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. As the climate warms (from El Nino), so does the risk of coral bleaching. There’s evidence that proves El Ninos are becoming more frequent and more intense. This is already the sixth El Nino we’ve had in the 21st century.

Bleaching

Even though coral reefs only cover 0.1% of the ocean floor, they support roughly 25% of the biodiversity of fish. However, coral reefs are very vulnerable to climate change. High sea temperatures is the biggest cause so far. Bleaching happens when stressed corals remove the tiny living algae in their tissues called zooxanthellae which leaves behind a white skeleton. That algae is important though—it’s how corals eat and without it they starve. It is possible for corals to recover from bleaching, but persistent bleaching can ultimately kill the entire reef.

Bleaching events have become such a modern phenomenon that it’s being reported that such events are happening every six or so years, which if you’re wondering, is not enough time for corals to recover.

The most recent bleaching event was from 2015 to 2016 and was the worst on record affecting 75% of the reefs that were examined during a study. Research suggests that Australia and the Middle East have seen the biggest increase in coral bleaching, but the reason for this still isn’t clear.

https://www.carbonbrief.org/severe-coral-bleaching-now-five-times-more-frequent-than-40-years-ago

Future

Even trying to limit temperatures to stay below 1.5C would be essential to give coral reefs a fighting chance. On the contrary, an increase of 2C would be disastrous for the world’s coral. The biggest consequence of El Nino is the effect it has on global temperatures. Most notably carbon dioxide which accelerates global warming.

Final Thoughts

If events like El Nino existed less and the effects weren’t so disastrous, coral reefs would have no issue thriving. Rising sea temperatures and the increase in carbon dioxide is killing coral reefs. These events happen so often they can’t regenerate in time.