06 September 2019
The rainforests of the ocean are dying
By Elta Fans Asia
06 September 2019
Trees. We know they are important for their very handy ability to produce oxygen for us to breathe in order to survive. What if I were to tell you that trees aren’t the only things that produce our oxygen?
Our oceans are responsible for half of the worlds oxygen. Coral reefs indirectly produce a huge amount of the oxygen we breathe and our coral reefs are dying at a rapid rate. Single use plastics, global warming, oils and fossil fuels, pesticides, and even our beauty products are all leading to the destruction of our reefs.
The Amazon Rainforest is known as the lungs of the planet, but the Great Barrier Reef alone emits the same amount of oxygen every year.
Without coral reefs, marine life is dying and entire ecosystems are collapsing. It is not only human life that is held in the hands of our reefs and oceans, but all marine life.
A study led by the World’s Resources Institute, revealed that unless action is taken immediately, 90% of the world’s coral reefs will be threatened and all coral reefs that exist now could be gone by 2050.
The beautiful colours that we associate with coral, come from algae that live inside the tissues of the coral. When the ocean conditions are good, this algae provides easy food for the coral, giving them an opportunity to grow and reproduce, and giving them their vibrant colour.
However, less-than-ideal conditions such as rising water temperatures or large amounts of pollution in our water, can cause the coral to get stressed. When coral is under stress it expels this algae, which leave their white shells behind. This is what causes the coral to lose its colour and as a result obtains a ‘bleached’ look. Without this algae to feed on, most corals starve.
As climate change worsens and the global temperatures increase, our coral reefs are feeling the effects more than ever. Coral provides shelter and nutrients to marine organisms with approximately 25% of marine life depending on coral at one point in their lifecycle. Coral is a source of many nutrients that are essential to the life of marine food chains and without it, marine life is dying.
On the bright side, we are not at the point of no return just yet. Our coral reefs can survive and recover from the damage that has been done. If optimal conditions were to return, the corals would slowly begin to regenerate, regain their algae, and return to their vibrant former selves.
However, full recovery from bleaching can take decades to achieve and relies on the coral being strong and healthy. Prolonged exposure to polluted waters with warmer temperatures weakens the coral and makes it more difficult to revive.
” In order to turn the damage around, we need to address the bigger issues behind coral bleaching. “
The big issues
There are three key areas that we can focus on to help reduce the effects of climate change and global warming and in turn allow our reefs to recover to their former glory.
Oil and fossil fuels
Energy plants fuelled by oil and fossil fuels are big contributors to air pollution and are pumping out millions of tons of harmful chemicals and particles into our atmosphere each day.
These energy sources are major contributors to the pollution of our atmosphere which is causing global warming and climate change. Earth has already increased in temperature by 1 degree celsius since 1880. It may not sound like a lot, but to the planet, it is a big problem that is having very harmful effects on our environment and the ecosystems that exist within it.
Global warming is a key contributor to coral bleaching. If nothing is done to address the issue, scientists expect Earth’s temperature to further increase by 1.5 – 2.0 degrees which will have world wide effects including water shortages, extreme heat waves, and coastal flooding.
We need to act before it is too late. We can do this by moving towards a more sustainable, clean forms of energy. Solar and wind energy plants already exist, but we live in a world that is resistant to change and ill equipped to move away from coal and fossil fuelled energy plants. We need to make a change soon if we want to see any difference in our planet’s future.
Single use plastic
Approximately 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year and only 9% of this is being recycled. There is now no corner of the earth where plastic can not be found. Scientists recently found microplastic particles embedded under hundreds of feet of Arctic ice. Seventy percent of fish have ingested microplastics in our polluted oceans, and as a result of humans eating fish, plastic can even be found in our bodies.
There is no arguing that plastic pollution is one of the biggest issues the environment is facing today. We are seeing the movement behind reducing single use plastic increasing everyday with the ban of single use plastic bags from our shopping centres, the rise of reusable coffee cups, and the discontinuation of plastic straws.
By reducing the amount of plastic we are using in our lives, we can lower the amount of plastic being produced. We need to think of new and innovative ways to replace single use items with more sustainable alternatives and commit to making these changes in our everyday lives.
Pesticides and chemical sprays
Pesticides are used in agriculture all around the world. Often these pesticides end up in the water run offs and end up in our oceans. Pesticides contain a number of harmful chemicals that are killing our coral reefs and marine life. It has been found that the chemicals used in pesticides can kill coral at all stages of their lifecycle and can contaminate huge amounts of water at a time.
We need to completely eliminate the use of pesticides on our crops, and use natural and sustainable solutions as alternatives in order to remove the damage we are causing to our reefs.
The little things you can do
Advocate and educate
Knowing is half the battle and the more people who know about the damage we are causing our coral reefs, the more people can join the movement to save our reefs.
By educating ourselves and others on the impact our lives are having on our environment, we can make more informed decisions in our everyday lives.
Advocating for the cause and bringing awareness to the issues the reefs are facing will help in getting more people to acknowledge the issue and make positive changes to their lives in order to reduce the impact they are having on our reefs.
Reduce your energy consumption
By reducing our personal energy consumption, we are lowering the demand for electricity. This is a key ingredient in saving the coral reefs as it means we are reducing our carbon emissions and reducing the demand for coal energy.
In turn, this will help decrease air pollution and negate the effects of climate change and global warming which are the two factors that are having the biggest impact on the bleaching of our reefs.
Use reef friendly sunscreen and body products
The products we use on our body are also having an effect on our reefs. Some chemicals found in everyday sunscreens are actually contributing to the coral bleaching. Studies have found that coral bleaching is more prominent in some tourist snorkeling areas as a direct result of the sunscreen and lotions people are wearing on their bodies before jumping in the water.
It is important that we are choosing reef-safe sunscreen and lotions when swimming in the ocean so we are not causing any further damage to our reefs.
Buy organic or local produce
Buying organic or local produce helps in reducing the amount of pesticides that are reaching our waterways.
Local and organic farmers often use less, more sustainable pesticide solutions that are friendlier to our environment. By supporting local and organise produce farmers, we are indirectly having a positive impact on our reefs.
There are a number of foundations and organisations working toward restoring our reefs and educating people on how they can help and make a difference.
Coral restoration takes decades to achieve and requires a lot of hands on work. By donating to the organisations fighting for this cause, you can help them achieve their goals with much needed funding. A quick Google search about coral bleaching or reef destruction will give you a list of great organisations to get behind.
It is vital that we act now to save our coral reefs. Climate change and global warming is killing our coral and it is up to us to stop it. By making a few small changes in our lives and advocating for a brighter, more sustainable future, we can work towards restoring our reefs. It is not too late to make a difference but our time is running out. In only a few decades our reefs could be completely destroyed.
Our time is now.