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Global warming is rapidly becoming the number one threat to the long-term survival of Earth’s ecosystem, including one of the most interconnected and biologically diverse marine community: coral reefs (Thomas et al. 2004).
Coral colonies have existed for over 450 million years, allowing them to possibly be the oldest ecosystems on Earth by a considerable margin. They are also among the most protective and resourceful to both humans and the oceans; the reefs deliver ecosystem services for shoreline protection, as well as economic benefits to humans, including tourism, fisheries, and other useful resources (Wells and Hanna 6). While coral reefs are one of the most productive and naturally diverse marine ecosystems, they are also one of the most ecologically sensitive to global climatic change (Sammon 18). As a result, the rescue of the dying reefs is an urgent matter for all people. Moreover, coral reef conservation is a fundamental solution to helping slow down climate change by raising awareness about the problem, and sustaining coral management.
“Coral reefs are on track to become the first ecosystem actually eliminated from the planet,” leading ecologist Peter F. Sale says. In his book, he states global climate change is resulting in dying reefs and in natural occurrences like hurricanes and storms, which can directly devastate the reef structure when they are struck (51). The greenhouse effect and global warming are leading factor in some of the most striking destruction to the coral system (Springer 95). For instance, the El Niño incident in 1982-83 caused the most intensive bleaching in the Pacific Ocean (Wells and Hanna 54). Increase in sea temperatures from global warming have already increased major coral bleaching incidents. Warm water is also expected to increase the incidence of other coral disease such as black and white band disease, white plague, and white pox (Murphy 74-77). Although reefs are extraordinarily resilient, there are many other factors on reefs that could slow down, or even cease, their recovery (Wells and Hanna 55). Other events that may have a great impact on reefs are: ocean acidification, increase in water temperature, and sea level. “Mean sea level across the planet has risen by almost 17cm over the past 100 years and is currently rising at 1-2 mm a year” (Springer 103). Rising temperatures and sea level are not only making the water too hot or too cold for corals to endure, the changes in sea levels also impact reefs by making them more difficult to receive adequate sunlight (Springer 102-103). Human activities such as coral mining, pollution, agricultural and urban runoff, overfishing, desertification, deforestation, use of fossil fuels, population growth and over exploitation are also threats to the coral environment (Sale 3). Threats for corals means threats for the entire ecosystem, since all marine animals are. Generally, reefs of the world are in great danger and humans should take part in minimizing the existent impacts and conserving their ecological resilience in order to allow them to survive the challenges of the future.
“[Sale has] described [the environment problem] as an elephant that [humans] try not to see, a huge and growing elephant with many different parts” (276). The author utilizes this “metaphorical elephant” (276) as an example of the occurring disturbances: coral reef bleaching, climate change, overfishing, etc. Although there are numerous potential solutions to our existing disastrous events, humans must first come to an understanding of the true concern. Sale answers these objections with the following analysis: “[t]o solve our problem we are going to deal with the whole elephant, because the seemingly separate parts are interconnected and affect one another” (276). Sale believes most ecological concerns are delivered to the general public as each separate matter, yet indeed a problem is consistently connected to another. The persistent tropical storms, as a result of global warming and climate change, threaten the health and survival of the reef until it loses its resilience, and consequently fails to sustain its ecosystem due to the loss of species. Sale suggests the first and most challenging, but essential, step of solving the problem is to recognize that this ecological problem is real and people need to be aware (283). It is important for people to see themselves as part of the ecosystem and as part of the solution. To raise awareness about climate change is the preliminary step of rescuing the dying reefs, and it is an important component of climate change to communicate to the masses.
In addition to the acknowledgment of the problem, diminishing the use of fossil fuels is critical for reef conservation. A depressing catastrophe happened on April 20, 2010: “a semisubmersible oil-drilling platform exploded and burned furiously until April 22, when it finally sank beneath the waves, leaving broken pipes spilling crude oil at the bottom of the ocean.” As a result, “the spill has covered more than 10,000 square km of the gulf of Mexico” (Sale 237-238). The tragedy has traumatized countless ecological diversity of both marine and wild life around the spill, and it has also added enormous amount of stress globally. According to Sale, the probability of related disastrous spills in the future are only rising, because a lot of our residual oil reserves are in hard to reach land deep underwater (238). Since the process of retrieving the supply of fossil fuels is extremely risky and difficult, human should reduce the use of this non-renewable resource and find alternative ways to make electricity (Sale 237-239). In spite of current economic conviction, our planet does not have infinite resources. Thus, in order to maintain the enjoyment of life for the future, we must take action, such as reducing the use of fossil fuels.
As well as limiting the use of a certain resources, there are other management plans that focus on other social influences, such as poor water quality. This may help minimize the shorter-term impacts and increasing the resilience of reef ecosystems (Hughes et al. 2003). Organizations will need to improve water quality by reducing water pollution like ocean dumpling. In particular, management options include local restrictions on ocean dredging and large boat traffic, as well as appropriate modifications of regulations relating to tourism (Hughes et al. 2003). Moreover, managing of the coral must be expanded to include concerns like ocean acidification, calcification rates, water temperatures, and coral bleaching rates if organizations expect to be able to effectively conserve these reefs as the climate warms (Hughes et al. 2003). Research is needed to develop new methods of restoring damaged or destroyed coral reefs due to water pollution. Given the options for the control of coral reefs, maintaining healthy oceanic management plans may provide a certain amount of resilience to climate change. Evaluation is critical for sustainable management of coral reefs in future.
In conclusion, much more research is necessary before one can anticipate all the consequences of climate change on coral reefs and develop more effective plans to give rise to reef resiliency and lower the loss of biodiversity (Wells and Hanna 55). If the first step can reduce the rate of climate change, and meanwhile avoid permanent damage to the coral reef kingdom, there is at least a slight chance for positive change (Munday el al. 279). Unhealthy reefs may imply an unhealthy earth, and humans cannot allow more threats to the sole place we have to reside (Murphy 18).
Hughes et al. “Climate change, human impacts and the resilience of coral reefs.” Science 301(2003): 929-933. Google Scholar. Web. November 14, 2013.
Murphy, Richard C. Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Sea. Princeton: The Darwin Press, 2002. Print.
Sale, Peter F. Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist’s View of the Crisis We Face. Berkeley: California UP, 2011. Print.
Sammon, Rick. Secrets of the Coral Reefs: Exploring the Underwater Wonders. Ed. Jane Billinghurst. Stillwater: Voyageur Press, 1995. Print.
Springer. The Great Barrier Reef: Biology, Environment, and Management. Ed. Pat Hutchings, Mike Kingsford, and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. Australia: CSIRO, 2009. Print.
Thomas et al. “Extinction Risk From Climate Change.” Nature International weekly journal of science (2004): n. pag. Google Scholar. Web. November 13, 2013.
Walter and Jean Deas. Coral Reefs: Nature’s Wonders. Australia: Western Australian Museum, 2005. Print.
Wells and Nick Hanna. The Greenpeace Book of Coral Reefs. Ed. Jill Hollis. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 1992. Print.