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“Coral Bleaching – a danger sign for ocean health”
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“Coral Bleaching – a danger sign for ocean health”

Janine Wan

Coral reefs are known for their exotic colour but adverse ocean conditions are bleaching the coral, writes Janine Wan, 16, a Commonwealth Correspondent based in Melbourne, Australia. She explains that the damage is far-reaching.

Coral Bleaching is the phenomenon of corals losing their colour, usually caused by a drastic change in the reef environment.

This issue is extremely important, as coral reefs are biodiverse ecosystems that play an integral role in ocean health. They are sensitive and important indicators of ocean health, yet a 1980s survey revealed damage to coral reefs in 97 out of 103 countries. Since then, this problem has worsened.

Corals are animals, classified under the group Cnidarian, which includes jellyfish and sea anemones. Photosynthetic organisms called Zooxanthellae live in symbiosis with coral, and are the reason the corals have vibrant colours. They provide up to 90 per cent of coral’s energy. Only live corals have colour, and a coral dies after it turns white.

Coral Bleaching is usually caused by drastic changes in the coral environment due to climate change and pollution.

When exposed to high temperatures including increased water temperature, the Zooxanthellae become poisonous to their host as they produce ‘radicals’, which cause cellular distress. The corals become susceptible to starvation, diseases and macro algae. As the global temperature rises, the fragility and importance of the world’s reefs becomes a source of serious concern, as well as an early indication of the severity of the effects of climate change.

The second most common cause of Coral Bleaching is pollution. Corals grow in areas that are free of sediment, and are very sensitive to pollution. Cities in the proximity of coral reefs are large threats to the corals as they often discharge pollutants into the water, which can disrupt and destroy the reef ecosystem. Industries such as construction, fishing, logging, and manufacturing are particularly harmful.

Coral Bleaching affects the reef ecosystem drastically. Coral reefs are amongst the most biologically diverse ecosystems, providing food, protection, and favourable conditions for fish and other creatures that live there. Bigger animals such as sharks and whales live nearby, and rely on the reef as a food source. Many coral reefs are even more densely populated than the largest cities in the world.

People enjoy the benefits of the reef as well. Coral reefs are popular tourist destinations due to their vibrant colours, which brings in a large amount of income from tourists keen to see some of the most beautifully coloured organisms on the planet. Coral reefs also are vital to human societies and industries through fisheries, coastal protection, building materials and the production of new biochemical compounds. Many fishermen and fisheries rely on the reef to provide them with fish to catch. In addition to this, the scientists use reefs to investigate how its many organisms live and interact with their environment.

Many organisations have been set up around the world to combat Coral Bleaching. The Australian government established the Great Barrier Reef MarinePark in 1975 to protect the coral reef and its surrounding waters. In 1998, the United States established the Coral Reef Task Force, which maps and monitors U.S. coral reefs, researching the causes of coral reef degradation and promoting conservation and the sustainable use of coral reefs. In addition to this, many environmental organisations are campaigning for better protection of coral reefs. Divers, boaters, and sightseers are beginning to become more ocean-friendly, and many pet shop owners now purchase tropical fish from suppliers who can guarantee that they were collected humanely. However, more awareness is needed so that more people will be able to join in and further these efforts.

However, we must do our part to solve this problem as well. We can make the atmosphere and oceans cleaner by reducing our carbon footprint. When we burn fossil fuels, we add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This blanket of carbon dioxide has built up over the years, trapping more of the sun’s heat. This increased amount of heat has warmed the oceans, which is taking a toll on marine life. By doing the “Three R’s”- reduce, reuse, and recycle, we can reduce our carbon footprint. This not only helps our communities, but also coral reef communities all over the globe. We can also help to combat Coral Bleaching by reducing the pollution of oceans. All water on earth is connected, so water that goes down the drain eventually ends up in the ocean. By reducing our community’s use of chemicals and fertilizers, we can help to ensure that our ocean stay healthy.

The quickening rate of Coral Bleaching is a global environment issue that was caused largely by humans, so we must do what we can to reverse these effects. We need to educate other people on this issue so that they will join us in our cause to preserve the reefs. If we all work together, we may be able to save the coral reefs.

photo credit: Blue Hour Admiral via photopin cc

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About me: I am a 15-year-old student in Melbourne, but have been brought up in both America and Singapore. I love to read, to write and to eat pizza. I also love tinkering with gadgets, though I’m not very good at that. My superpower of choice would be enhanced intelligence, so I could do and build things to defy the constraint of time and space. I do my best writing while procrastinating, which I do rather often.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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