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The Coral(lation) between Reefs and Climate Change

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2884 words Published: 18th May 2020

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 With our fast-paced, global economy we are constantly making advancements in our technology. Even though an industrialized economy is desired, it can have also have its setbacks. For example, the creation of the automobiles changed how we travel to everyday or far places. However, when cars became more of a necessity instead of a luxury, the burning of fossil fuels increased. This increase of CO2 emissions from automobiles into our atmosphere is one of the major causes for climate change, damaging our ecosystems and wellbeing. One ecosystem that climate change affects are the coral reefs in our oceans. Climate change, caused by human actions, spells real trouble for our coral reefs affecting the organisms in the reef, ourselves, and needs to be addressed and prevented by individuals.

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 Climate change has been and still is a major result from human activity. Everytime we start the engine of our cars or power up our home, we contribute to the warming of the Earth. The Environmental Defense Fund(EDF) states that these everyday activities send carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere which is causing the temperature to climb (“What sparked global warming?”). With the billions of people on planet Earth, each performing these everyday activities, the emission of these gasses add up very quickly over a short period of time. In 2007, the EDF conducted a study measuring how much carbon dioxide we have emitted and found that “for 800,000 years, natural amounts of carbon dioxide ranged from 180 to 300 parts per million of the atmosphere (ppm). Today’s levels are around 400 ppm – up 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th century, when the level was 280 ppm”(“What sparked global warming?”). This shows that the little time we have been on earth, we have already added an enormous amount of carbon into our air. If we continue our ways, the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted will be too large for us to even find a solution. These greenhouse gasses are one of many factors that result in Climate change which is the reason behind the rise in global temperatures, leading to the destruction of many ecosystems. Society’s ways of life will continue to cause problems for ecosystems and have already been doing so like our coral reefs.

Coral reefs are constantly endangered by outside elements, however, climate change is one of the biggest threats facing climate change. The rising temperature of the atmosphere from global warming causes the rising temperature of the water in our oceans. The warmer water destroys nutrients within the water used by the coral reefs. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) warmer water temperatures stress coral reefs, causing them to lose algae (“Coral bleaching and ocean acidification”). Because algae is the main source of nutrient for coral reefs, they become weaker and become less resistant to other threatening elements, like diseases. The weaker the coral reefs the higher the chance of its death. Not only is the rising temperature from global warming affecting our reefs but also the increase of gases into the atmosphere. The NOAA also states that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is problematic for coral reefs because “the ocean absorbs approximately one-third of the atmosphere’s excess carbon dioxide, resulting in a more acidic ocean” (“Coral bleaching and ocean acidification”). An acidic ocean is detrimental for coral reefs because the acidity slows down the rate of growth for it. Coral reefs thrive in a narrow range of temperature and acidity that climate change can easily change. Renee Cho, a scientist from Columbia University’s Earth Institute, found in a recent study “that the ability of corals and the reefs they build to keep pace with the current rate of climate change has been exceeded”(Cho). If the water were to change suddenly in temperature or acidity, it would prevent the reefs to grow as they usually would. The reefs are not adjusting to the changes as quickly as they are happening which has become detrimental to the reefs. With a slower growth rate and weaker immune system, coral reefs can easily catch diseases and not be able to recover from it. Global warming has become the major threat to our coral reefs and if we do not resolve this problem, it will cause a cascade of even more problems.

The destruction of coral reefs can lead to the destruction of our societies, economically and socially. Even though they may just seem like beautiful tourist attractions, coral reefs provide a large amount of revenue that could drastically change our economies if they were to be completely wiped off the face of the Earth. According to Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biology professor and director of the Coral Reef Research Institute Research, “Tourism alone creates billions of dollars for countries associated with coral reefs—$1.6 billion generated annually by Floridean reefs; approximately $8.9 billion by Caribbean reefs and beach tourism; and $1.5 billion by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef” (Hoegh-Guldberg). Even though tourism is only one factor that generates money from coral reefs, it is still generating billions of dollars in profit. The destruction of these coral reefs would result in a huge loss of revenue for these countries. Another aspect of the money making process would be the fisheries associated with coral reefs. According to a study done in 2001 by the NOAA, “the commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs is over $100 million”(Importance of Coral Reefs”). Our own country even benefits from our small amounts of coral reefs. Not only can the loss of coral reefs hurt the globe financially but also socially. Professor Hoegh-Guldberg stated  “many people depend in part or wholly on coral reefs for their livelihood”(Hoegh-Guldberg). Because fisheries are part of coral reefs, the millions of people living by the reefs must receive their food source from them. Loss of reefs would result in sparks of starvation all over the globe with the already significant loss of revenue. Ultimately, loss of coral reefs would end in disasters for many societies.

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. Clearing up  the reefs means clearing up all the organisms and plants that live within it. The organisms living inside the reefs are one solution that can help fix the problem of climate change. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority the majority of the organisms living in the reefs,  “take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to food using the sun’s energy”(“Managing the Reef). This means that take away the greenhouse gas emissions, slowing down the rate of climate change. Essentially climate change is not only ruining coral reefs but ruining the solution to climate change. The organisms living on the reef are not only processors of gasses but are also huge sources of biodiversity.  According to Reaka-Kudla, a professor in the department of zoology at the University of Maryland, “there may be another 1 to 8 million undiscovered species of organisms living in around reefs”(“Important of Coral Reefs”). If the coral reef goes, that means this enormous amount of undiscovered species also goes. This is significant because “many drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases.”(“Important of Coral Reefs”). These undiscovered specimen could be the new medicine that we’ve been researching for years. The reefs give us a potential to revolutionize the medical field. With the gradual downfall of the reefs, our chance of finding off those horrible diseases decrease as well. Coral reefs have a significant impact on us because of the potential in can provide to improve our daily lives.

Not only are there setbacks with the process of the dying reefs, but there are also consequences once they are gone.  Since coral reefs are located near shorelines they have become like a buffer to the shorelines from strong waves and anything else that become harmful in the sea. According to the NOAA “globally, half a billion people are estimated to live within 100 kilometers of a coral reef and benefit from its production and protection”(“Importance of Coral Reefs”). Without the reefs, ports, harbors, and even homes can be endangered by the ocean. The land could also be more likely to be eroded, meaning loss of land. Thousands of people could lose their homes, jobs, and a lot of money. Ultimately, coral reefs provide high protection to whatever lies on the shore. Renee Cho found that “most corals and sponges are filter feeders, which means that they consume particulate matter suspended in the water column. This contributes to enhanced quality and clarity of our near shore waters”(Cho). Not only do they protect our shorelines they are also protecting our water from being contaminated. The coral reefs are not only protecting people’s homes but also the water that they may end up using. Coral reefs offer shoreline protection and maintain water quality and without them we would face consequences from the ocean.

Without coral reefs, our economies would change significantly which is why we need to find a solution to save our coral reefs. We must first attack the biggest threat to the coral reefs which is global warming. We are the major contributing factor for global warming, so if we start with individual changes, over time coral reefs may be healthy again. What humans do that fuels climate change is the emission of greenhouse gasses. Every time we decide to start up our cars, turn on the lights in our home, or turn on our phone, that energy used to do all those things was created from the use of fossil fuels. We need to be finding better alternatives to our daily lifestyles, like walking more and driving less or using fuel-efficient vehicles. Electric-powered vehicles have changed the automobile world. According to a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Nearly half (45 percent) of Americans live in best regions—where an electric vehicle has lower global warming emissions than a gasoline-powered vehicle.”(“Driving an Electric Car”). If those 45 percent amount of people used an electric vehicle instead of a gasoline-powered vehicle, we would be reducing an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emission. According to Patrick Gonzalez, a forest ecologist and climate-change scientist, “the United States, with 5% of the world’s population, emits a disproportionate share—22%—of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels”(Gonzalez). We are contributing four times our population, so if we were to change just how we drive, it will significantly change the amount of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. We need to seriously change our ways because once we do, we will be reducing the emissions of gasses by a significant amount. Another solution to our global warming crisis is the potential use of nanotechnology. The United Kingdom government recently reported that “nanotechnology has the potential to contribute to efforts to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and therefore assist in responding to climate change in a range of areas because of its incorporation into the hydrogen based economy, solar power technology or next generation batteries”(Thompson-Pomeroy). Nanotechnology itself plays a small role in reducing greenhouse emissions but because of its major parts in many larger systems that contribute enormously to the emissions. Its impact on energy consumption, which lowers greenhouse emission, which helps reduce one of the main factors for global warming. The use of this alternative energy source may help reduce our emissions in the future to almost nothing compared to how much we emit now. The state of our coral reefs are so highly threatened, that our own government has tried to act on the problem. In the early 2000s, the U.S. State Department came out with a report stating the future health of coral reefs are seriously jeopardized and tried to provide a solution. Alongside the report was the creation of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, however, “very little has been done to tackle the root of the problem made clear in this report—rapidly rising greenhouse gas pollution from the burning of fossil fuels”(Gonzalez). If we are really trying to do something to fix the crisis of our world’s coral reefs, we need to make sure we are attacking the source of this rapid rising greenhouse pollution. As we continue the lifestyles we have been living, the coral reefs only continue to get worse. Changing how we use energy and finding more efficient, renewable solutions will ultimately be the biggest solution in fighting of climate change.

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Coral reefs are being seriously jeopardized by global warming. We are the sole cause of the dying reefs and we should be making significant changes to our actions to try and save the reefs. The reefs not only support millions of living and nonliving organisms, but they also support ourselves. We use reefs for recreational purposes and economical purposes. The loss of reefs means the loss thousands of dollars that can be detrimental for many countries. Not only would there be a loss of money but also a loss of biodiversity along with it. The biodiversity in the coral reefs represent the potential of finding cures for deadly diseases. Reefs can provide protections for the species that live with it but can even provide protection to the species living adjacent to it. Many reefs line shorelines, protecting the many ports and households from the destructions the ocean can provide. Ultimately, coral reefs affect a large amount of our world than it may seem. The loss of the reefs would have a negative impact on the whole globe and we need to take action before it is too late. Everyday we contribute little by little to climate change, and in return it comes back to hurt us. We need to watch we do and create solutions or else we will become the source of destruction for not just coral reefs but the whole world.

Works Cited

  • Cho, Renee. “Losing Our Coral Reefs.” Earth Institute, 13 Jun. 2011. http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/06/13/losing-our-coral-reefs/. Accessed 26 Apr. 2017.
  • “Coral bleaching and ocean acidification are two climate-related impacts to coral reefs.” Florida Keys National Sanctuary, 8 Dec. 2011. www.floridakeys.noaa.gov/about/aboutsite.html. Accessed 14 Feb. 2017.
  • “Driving an Electric Car Reduces Carbon Emissions and Fuel Costs.” What Is the Impact of Green Practices?. ED. Tamara Thompson, Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010970210/OVIC?u=down54663&xid=243               Accessed 24 Feb. 2017.
  • Gonzalez, Patrick. “Climate Change Could Be Devastating and People Must Adapt to Survive.” Adaptation and Climate Change. ED.  Roman Espejo, Greenhaven Press, 2013. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010847202/OVIC?u=down54663&xid=ad500bd4. Accessed 23 Feb. 2017.
  • Hoegh-Guldberg, Ove. “Global Warming Causes Coral Bleaching.” Are the World’s Coral Reefs Threatened?. Ed. Charlene Ferguson. Greenhaven Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints. link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010317204/OVIC?u=down54663&xid=3f13849c.                             Accessed 14 Feb. 2017.
  • “Importance of Coral Reefs.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 25 Mar. 2008. www.oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral07_importance.html. Accessed 13               Feb. 2017.
  • “Managing the Reef.” Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 2007. www.gbrmpa.gov.au/ma                                       naging-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change/what-does-this-mean-for-communities                             -and-industries/fishing. Accessed 12 Feb. 2017.
  • Thompson-Pomeroy, Dexter, et al. “Nanotechnology May Provide Innovative Solutions to                               Climate Change.” Nanotechnology. Ed. Noah Berlatsky, Greenhaven Press, 2014.  Opposing Viewpoints. link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010650248/OVIC?u=down54663               &x id=14cb96ad. Accessed 26 Apr. 2017.
  • “What sparked global warming? People did.” Environmental Defense Fund,   www.edf.org/climate/what-sparked-global-warming-people-did. Accessed 14 Feb. 2017.


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