Coral reef ecosystems face dire threat from climate change

Millions of people depend on fisheries, tourism and coastal protection provided by healthy coral reefs
Bleaching Coral Reef of the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia, 2018.
Bleaching Coral Reef of the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia, 2018.

NEWS/FEATURES, Grades 7–9, 1st Place

On Earth, coral reefs are some of the most valuable and diverse ecosystems. These reefs are some of the most significant and beneficial places globally, but they aren’t invincible.

The greatest global threat to coral reef system ecosystems is climate change. As climate change increases so will negative consequences towards coral reefs. Reef ecosystems will be affected by climate change through a rise in sea level, change in ocean circulation patterns, and alterations to the frequency and intensity of tropical storms.

When combined together, these effects will drastically alter the function of the ecosystem. Obvious environmental changes have been noticed around the world due to global climate change. Scientific evidence has clearly indicated that Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are warming and that these changes are mainly from human activities that trigger greenhouse gases.

Mass coral infecting disease outbreaks and bleaching incidents are becoming more frequent due to temperature increases. With constant varying temperature changes, corals may dispose of the symbiotic algae living in their tissues. Corals can come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. They may be shaped like a branching tree, a table, a boulder, or other forms, and can even reach the size of cars.

A jump of about 1 to 2 degrees Celsius in ocean temperatures over several weeks can lead to bleaching of the coral, which is a result of the coral expelling the algae that gives it its bright colors. If corals are bleached for extended periods of time, they will eventually perish. Massive numbers of coral may begin to die after a single bleaching episode.

Reefs can support more than one-quarter of all marine fish species, in addition to many other marine animals, despite covering a little less than 0.1% of the ocean floor. Additionally, the reefs contribute to a wide variety of ecosystem resources such as providing a constant supply of food, protection from flooding, and sustaining the fishing and tourism industries. The disappearance of coral reefs will, therefore, have unfortunate economic, social and health consequences.

Marine mammals, seabirds, and marine fish are all faced with very high-risk situations from increasing temperatures. High levels of mortalities, loss of breeding grounds, and mass movements as species search for favorable environmental conditions are all consequences of climate differences. Coral reefs are also affected by increasing temperatures which causes an increased risk of mortality and coral bleachings.

There are over 2,500 species of corals. About 1,000 of these corals are the hard corals that build coral reefs. Giving shelter to thousands of animal species, tropical coral reefs are some of the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth.

Millions of people depend on fisheries, tourism and coastal protection provided by healthy coral reefs.

Today, coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate globally and little is being done to preserve these beautiful communities.

See all the winning entries from the 2019 Student Gazette here.

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