Sunblock Won’t Fix That: The Effects of Coral Bleaching

Coral reefs are vital to ocean life. They’re known as the nurseries of the ocean due to many fish starting their lives there. These groupings of coral are vital to human life. We harvest the fish that live by these reefs, the reefs protect us by decreasing wave sizes that can result in floods near our coastlines, and we sell and eat what we’ve harvested from the reefs. Unfortunately due to the rising water temperatures as a result of climate change, corals are becoming bleached. This happens when the coral polyps, the individual coral organisms that join together to make larger and more complex corals, will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues which in turn cause the coral to turn completely white. This is bad because the coral alone isn’t able to function properly. This symbiotic relationship between the coral and zooxanthellae is necessary for the functioning of the coral since the algae, through photosynthesis, can provide glucose, glycerol, and amino acids that the coral itself can’t make. This in turn is the very reason why corals can have such vibrant differentiating colors through that process of photosynthesis. But when ocean water temperatures began to rise, tides became lower resulting in a greater amount of sunlight exposure, or the increase in pollution, the algae got stressed and detached from the corals resulting in the coral dying since it needed a symbiotic partner to produce the things it could not.

Coral bleaching hasn’t been occurring for a long time, It’s relatively new due to climate change which is due to humans. Due to the increase in greenhouse gases and the depletion of the ozone layer, water temperatures have risen by a simple degree over the past 100years. Yet, that simple degree in fahrenheit has caused a cataclysmic chain of events on our earth. This domino effect has resulted in the bleaching of corals which in turn has led to corals dying which now means fish have unsafe nurseries resulting in coral reefs having less abundant fish. Due to this, fish harvesters are now pulling up less fish which is hurting the economy. In the Caribbean, their tourist industry is being severely damaged due to major coral bleaching events that took place from 2014-2017. Many reefs turned from beautiful colorful underwater landscapes to desolate white and brown decaying coral corpse piles which no one would want to spend money on to see.

Many people are trying to find solutions for the widespread amount of dying corals by planting new corals or by starting coral nurseries. The crazy thing about some of the corals was that in the process of bleaching, some of them turned neon as an attempt to save themselves. This was due to algae working to create a protective layer on the corals that acted like UV protectant. The reason as to why the corals seemed to glow or appear neon was due to the new algae being made up of fluorescent proteins like those found in jellyfish. This cry for help doesn’t go unnoticed as water temperatures slowly rise and affect our marine life as well as ours. It’s going to be hard to correct our mistakes that are causing the earth to change in dangerous ways, but if we can become more sustainable and take care of our lands and oceans we can pull through and stop the harm we’ve created.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

This entry was written by Aniela C. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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