The Global issue of Coral Bleaching

Imagine this, you are on vacation and pay good money to scuba dive in the wonders of the sea. You are thrilled to see an abundance of the world below us, filled with happy ecosystems, baby sea turtles, huge sharks and incredible colors. To your surprise, the ocean lacks its beauty and majestic glow. The coral isn’t its vibrant, healthy self but instead decaying and dull. There are far less fish and aquatic plants than expected, and instead you find yourself surrounded in a never-ending vast blue, longing for the return of a lively reef.

Unpleased and disappointed, you question what happened and how you can help, thankfully the Marine Conservation Costa Rica (MCCR) is actively striving to educate and take action.

What is Coral Bleaching?

Due to global warming increasing the temperature of the sea, coral eject zooxanthellae, (the symbiotic algae that lives in most hard corals and provides the coral with most of its energy to build reefs). With the zooxanthellae gone, the coral’s beautiful colors fade and turn white. This process is called coral bleaching.

The good news is the loss of color does not mean the coral has died, it is still alive and can survive a bleaching but undergoes stress and is much more vulnerable. Coral can recover from bleaching if the ocean’s previous conditions return to normal, and zooxanthellae in reabsorbed. By adapting to a lifestyle focused on reducing global warming, we will help regrow those reefs and see them thrive again.

coral bleaching

How Global Warming Hurts Coral

Global warming has become a widespread issue across the world, and unfortunately the ocean has been the number one victim. The sea life thrives in a specific climate and temperature range, with little to no wiggle room. When the ocean begins to warm up, even just a couple of degrees, living organisms struggle to survive. Thus, leaving the coral lifeless with only the calcium carbonate skeleton remaining. Now what was once a lush and thriving community of organisms is a bare and lifeless area of sand and coral skeletons.

Pavona gigantea - Corals of Costa Rica

Why does Coral Matter?

Coral may look like a simple plant, however, it is actually a sessile animal that relies on the oceans floor and algae to thrive. A healthy reef provides an entire community for its residents to live, eat and be protected. It is home to millions of varied species like fish, algae, crab, clams, seahorses and turtles. Without it, essentials like food, shelter, and biodiversity would become scarce resulting in food-web changes and relocating or dying of needed species.

How are we Affected?

The health of coral is significant to the health of our earth and humans. Since coral reefs are the center for ecosystems in the ocean and supply the food chains, we are losing food too. For us, they are vital for feeding many coastal populations of people since they provide us with most of the seafood we eat.

Furthermore, coral reefs play a significant role in protecting our precious coastlines and beaches. During the time of storms or natural disasters like hurricanes, the reefs act as a barrier to protect land from flooding and erosion.

Coral reef research

Simultaneously, coral reefs do an excellent job of storing carbon dioxide, which aids in the regulation of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. As you can see, coral reefs hold many responsibilities to organisms of all levels.

Just as we rely on coral reefs, they are dependent on us! It is now our turn to take a closer look at how we as humans are treating our wonderful corals and helping rebuild their sustainability in the natural world.

Respect the coral reefs.

Written by Danielle Brittle