Photo: Greg Torda/ACR Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
As often as global climate change is in the news, many remain unaware of how current and critical this issue is. The effects of climate change can be seen all across the globe, and they are especially evident in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This coral reef that can be seen from space may not be around for much longer if climate change persists.
As the water temperatures increase, corals bleach (turn white). According to James Kerry from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia, coral need a minimum of ten years to recover from bleaching, and as mass bleaching events become more frequent, the prospect of recovery becomes less likely. Additionally, coral reefs are only able to recover if ocean temperatures go back down to their normal level. If this does not happen, the corals will die. The mass bleaching events that occurred in 2016 and 2017 represent the first time that there have been two mass bleaches in two consecutive years. This is all the more dangerous because the corals that bleached in 2016 had no time to recover before the 2017 bleaching.
Photo: Tourism Australia
The 2016 bleaching affected the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, and this year’s bleaching affected the middle part. There was some overlap, however, so the corals that were affected by both bleaches were even more severely damaged. There is also evidence that the corals previously thought to be resistant to bleaching are now experiencing damage as well. Scientists have concluded that over 90% of the Great Barrier Reef has sustained damage. A study in Nature asserts that local measures will be ineffective to halt the process of bleaching; “Urgent and rapid action to reduce global warming” (Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals) is necessary.
Not only are coral reefs popular tourist destinations, but they contain some of the largest diversity of life on the planet, and there are innumerable organisms that depend on them for survival. The loss of coral reefs would undeniably disrupt the undersea ecosystems. The only way to avoid this fate is to take drastic measures to avoid exacerbating the issue of global warming. Whether it is using solar panels for electricity or buying an electrically-powered car, everyone ought to think about what changes one can make in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which are one of the primary causes of global climate change. Humans have created this crisis, and it is up to us to fix it.
Lucia Gordon is 17 years old. She is a high school student who loves snorkeling!