Impacts of Climate Change on Coral Reefs

Climate Change has far reaching impacts. One surprising effect of climate change involves coral reefs. 

Since the late 19th century, the ocean temperature has risen by 1.3 degrees celsius. Changing ocean temperatures can negatively affect coral. This can cause coral bleaching, where coral loses its vibrant color. Although coral can survive after bleaching, it is more at risk to other problems. Furthermore, global warming can change other aspects such as wave frequency and storms. This is also able to cause damage to coral. Coral near the equator is predicted to be more impacted by heat stress in the future.

Although carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is known for causing global warming, it has other impacts on the ocean. This is called ocean acidification, where the ocean becomes more acidic when it absorbs more carbon dioxide. Ocean acidification slows the growth of coral by inhibiting its ability to produce calcium carbonate. 

Coral reefs are vital to the ecosystem. Additionally, there are many anthropogenic benefits of coral reefs . Here are a few of the reasons why coral is important:

  • High biodiversity (support more species per unit than any other marine environment)
  • Home for many sea-creatures
  • 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on coral reefs
  • Protect coastlines from storms and erosion (protect shore from 97% of energy from waves, storms and floods). Absence of this barrier may cause damage to coastal communities.
  • They are a source of food 
  • Source of medicine. Scientists predict that there may be millions of species in and around coral reefs that have yet to be discovered, so potential for new medicine
  • Snorkeling at reefs is a tourist attraction and therefor is important to some economies (tourism and recreation businesses)
  • Important to fishing industry
  • Culturally important to some indigenous communities

Possible Solutions: Scientists are able to research and find temporary solutions to some endangered coral, such as coral disease control. Additionally, some restoration efforts were made in the Caribbean by cultivating coral in a nursery and then transferring it to the wild reef. This is called Active Reef Restoration. There are also scientists that are sent to respond to “reef emergencies” at times if a reef is in immediate danger.  However, reducing carbon dioxide emissions is going to be essential if we want to save the coral over the long term. 


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