Coral reefs are home to about 25% of all marine plants and animals. The roles of coral reefs are extensive: protection of coastlines from flooding and erosion, marine habitats, goods and services, sources of new medicines, and more. According to a new global study, the marine world experienced a 14% loss of coral from 2009 to 2018, primarily due to climate change. Other stressors such as pollution, overfishing, and coastal construction have contributed to the problem, but elevated seawater temperatures are the main reason for the coral loss. The report also estimated the economic value of coral reefs to be $2.7 trillion a year in goods and services, including $36 billion in tourism.
Algae lives within the tissues of coral and is a beautiful color. When coral experiences a significant change in temperature, the algae, which is its primary food source, leave the coral. This is termed coral bleaching. Coral can survive the bleaching, but it is more susceptible to disease or further stressors and often dies. Half of the coral reefs in the U.S. Caribbean were bleached in 2005 due to thermal stress. In 1998, about 8% of the world’s algae experienced bleaching.
The recent study, supported by the United Nations, analyzed data from the past 40 years. While much of the data revealed a concerning amount of stress to coral reefs since 2009, the scientists’ message was that it is not too late to reverse some of the loss. Coral reef destruction is one of the many environmental problems caused mainly by climate change and another reason for immediate action by governments and people of goodwill worldwide. “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” (Robert Swan) What are your plans to act on climate change today, next week, next month?
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.