The Coral Reefs Aren’t Dead, But They Could Be Soon
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About a week ago, a story spread through the internet that the Great Barrier Reef had been proclaimed dead. Scientists quickly corrected the statement – the coral reefs are not dead, but could be very shortly if we do not take immediate steps to preserve them. Many scientists expressed their dissatisfaction with the rapid spread of this misinformation. They pointed out that if people believe the coral reefs are a lost cause, they will give up on them entirely, at a time when the coral reefs desperately need all the help they can get.
Reefs function as their own incredibly diverse ecosystems, meaning that any damage to them is catastrophic for the millions of marine animals that make their home there. Extreme environmental changes (primarily caused by humans) cause the normally bright and colorful reefs to turn white and appear “bleached.”
Climate change is the biggest factor in the destruction of massive reef systems like the Great Barrier Reef, although a heavy flow of tourism to the area is also quite detrimental to the reefs’ health. In the past, the Australian government has been criticized for its negligence of environmental matters, but has recently proposed a “Reef 2050 Plan” that focuses on protecting their reefs; they have also pledged to invest two billion dollars into helping the Great Barrier Reef. The money is intended to be used for banning waste disposal into the ocean, funding related research, and dealing with invasive species in the area.
Meanwhile, there are multitudes of brilliant people coming up with ideas to save the world’s reefs. Scientists know that more carbon dioxide in the ocean means more acidic water, which means much weaker coral reefs. David Koweek and his team found that by releasing bubbles of air into the water, more carbon dioxide was transferred to the atmosphere, meaning the water was less acidic (and thereby less harmful) for nearby coral reefs. Increased carbon dioxide also means higher water temperatures – another damaging effect to the reef systems.
Australian and American scientists are finding ways to make more resilient coral by cross-breeding different species that can withstand higher temperatures. There is hope after all for the future of our coral reefs.