If you asked me ten years ago, five years ago, even just last year if I would ever buy a Popular Science magazine, I would've laughed in your face. Fast forward to this year, last weekend specifically, and this girl did just that. I bought the Popular Science Summer 2019 magazine because it talks all about plastic problems, our ocean, and ALL the stuff this blog originated from. Today's topic of discussion, coral reefs.
Below, I'm summarizing some useful information written by Amelia Urry from "Death of the Reef" in Popular Science.
What are coral reefs and what is their importance?
Put simply, coral reefs are underwater ecosystems and corals are actually animals. When it comes to their importance, the reasons are endless. As humans, we know that our planet relies on the ocean for seven critical things (according to the National Ocean Service): the air we breathe, climate regulation, transportation, recreation, economy, food, and medicine. Each one of these being essential to our every day lives.
As far as the importance of the coral reefs themselves, healthy coral reefs provide habitats for over 1 million aquatic species, they provide food for people living near reefs, the can provide potential medicinal treatments (ICRI.com), and they combat waves, reducing their size before they reach land. When reefs are damaged, they leave shorelines susceptible to storm devastation. For example, hurricane Irma "churned up 30-foot swells on the open ocean, but inside the protective buffer of coral, the surge was only 10 feet high--still enough to do a lot of damage but stripped of much of its destructive force". (Urry, Amelia. "Death of the Reef." Popular Science.)
What is bleaching and why does it matter?
Coral bleaching is "an increasingly common affliction where heat-stressed colonies expel their colorful photosynthetic algae and turn white". (Urry, Amelia.) Bleaching in corals is comparable to an autoimmune disease in humans. Because study of coral reefs is fairly new, only 30-40 years of studying, Andy Bruckner, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher, states that "Where we are with coral disease is about where we were with human health in the 1800s".
As far as why it matters, coral bleaching essentially kills the underwater ecosystems, leaving just their skeletons in tact. Because they are submerged in water, treatment options are far less than ideal as putting antibiotics in the water is more dangerous that giving a human antibiotics. While possibly helpful to the reefs, this can be extremely damaging in other ways. Global warming has sped up the spread of coral bleaching drastically as corals stressed by heat and/or pollution are much more likely to get sick and damaged.
Contamination in the ocean and dying off corals affect those seven critical things that the ocean gives to humanity. While research might not be showing signs of big improvement in the near future, scientists are working tirelessly to find solutions to better help the quality of our coral reefs.
What can we do?
When it comes to anything this alarming, it's best to continue to do your research and stay aware. Support companies that are paying attention to the environment around them, share information with your friends and family (even if they start to roll their eyes at you, share, just don't preach), get involved in your local beach communities to see what you can do to better support research, raise awareness, and volunteer to make a difference in the world around us. Our world runs on our ocean. Together, we can continue to protect it and improve the quality of life for ourselves and future generations.
While I may know very little about the coral reef situation, I am continuing my education on the matter. That said, I am ALWAYS looking for your input, correction on facts I've included, if necessary, and feedback. If you haven't already started using reef safe sunscreen, check out this blog post for more information.
Head over to the Facebook page to get the conversation going on coral reefs. Leave a comment, advice, tag a friend, etc. I'll meet you there!
Information for this post was taken from "Death of the Reef" by Amelia Urry from Popular Science.
Jamie is a musician, avid lover of nature, and a dog momma living a more sustainable life each and every day.