Danger of Decline in Coral Reefs Because of Coral Bleaching

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Koʻa, or coral polyp, is the first life form referred to in the Native Hawaiian genealogical chant, the Kumulipo. On the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationʻs (NOAA) website page, “What is Coral Bleaching,” coral bleaching is when “Corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white” (“What is Coral Bleaching”). Although many people do not care about the importance of coral reefs in Hawaiʻi and around the world, the coral reef ecosystems are declining due to coral bleaching caused by warm ocean temperatures, land based pollutions, and affects by tourism to coastal areas.

With multiple factors contributing to the decline of coral reefs, the rise in oceanʻs temperature is a critical part because they live in the ocean. Ocean temperatures are rising because of climatical changes. This is a key point because as the water gets warmer, the coral will die and the reef will follow. According to Dr. Jamison Goves' study, a NOAA research oceanographer, stated to Big Island Now, “Ocean temperatures remain well above average across much of the state. Areas along West Hawai‘i and Maui Nui are especially warm, as much as 3 to 3.5°F above typical summertime temperatures. Warm ocean temperatures are expected to persist in the coming weeks, likely worsening the coral bleaching that has recently been observed across the islands” (“Coral Bleaching Event”). If coral bleaching continues due to the warming temperatures in the ocean, more of the worldʻs reefs will be threatened.

Catastrophic bleaching recently occurred at multiple events at the Great Barrier. The Great Barrier is located in Australia. The is one of the largest coral reef ecosystems in the world and it can even be seen from space. In recent years, this Australian reef encountered a historic coral bleaching event that killed two-thirds of the coral reef due to warmer temperatures in the ocean, as stated on the Coral Reef Alliance, a non-profit organization website page about global threats (“Global Threats”). With this past occurrence, if another catastrophic event like this happens, it is not a good outlook for our coral reefs around the world.

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The increase of the ocean temperature is a big threat to coral ecosystems. Reporters of the New York Times, Damien Cave and Justin Gills reported in their article in the New York Times, “Larger Sections of Australiaʻs Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientist Find”, the ocean temperature overall increased over 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century. In addition, during the year 2016, the multiple El Nino events in 2016 contributed to a lot of coral bleaching that was recorded (“Large Sections”). Both of these points about coral reefs in regard to the Great Barrier Reef are important because it is a pattern seen from recent and past studies in the decline of coral reefs.

In addition to the rising temperatures of the ocean, various types of pollution can affect coral reefs, such as land-based pollutants. Land-based pollutants come in many forms that can destroy coral reefs. From the NOAAʻs webpage, “How does land-based pollution threaten coral reefs,'' the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation program confirmed multiple sources in their infographic about land-based pollution — including chemicals from sunscreens, coastal development, deforestation, run-offs — which can cause a negative impact on the worldʻs coral reef growth, reproduction, diseases, and the ecosystem. (“How does land”). As human development continues in coastal areas around the world, it is challenging for humans to protect and help the coral reefs and the organisms from the current human impact.

Coral reefs are also one of the most biodiverse and productive ecosystems in the entire ocean. The loss of biodiversity affects the human communities around them. Carol Hand Ph.D. of Zoology and science writer, wrote the book, Coral Reef Collapse, focusing on coral reefs. In one part of her book, she referred to the Carribean archipelago, located in the Caribbean sea, in which eighty percent of the coral reef pollution in this area is from land sources (Hand, 58). Land pollution and its run-off is a big factor in coral bleaching. With researchers like Carol Hand and national organizations and local agencies around the world, this is a way people can learn and can contribute to help with saving the reefs. One way is to teach local communities who live in coastal areas, along with tourists who come to the coastal beaches.

The tourism industry is another direct influence on coral bleaching because of the carelessness of the tourist industry. The common chemical oxybenzone found in many sunscreens that tourists buy due to the popularity of the brand. Tourists may not know that the oxybenzone chemical kills coral reefs. When oxybenzone comes in contact with coral reefs the chemical decreases the coral reefs defense against coral bleaching. According to Maui Now’s article, which noted statistics from the film, “Reefs at Risk - Whatʻs in your Sunscreen,'' they note data gathered by film producers, Malina Fagan and Lynn Pelletie, who are Hawaiʻi island residents and with the NOAA. From their research and film, they estimated that 15% of coral reefs around the world are impacted by chemicals found in sunscreen (“Reefs at Risk”). Sunscreen used near coast of the islands and by sewage after use are both countable ways where the reefs are affected.

Additionally from article review on the film, “Reefs at Risk”`, the film exposed the harmful effects of Oxybenzone, which is the major chemical found in sunscreen which has a large impact on Hawaii reefs. Craig Downs Ph.D. was featured in the film. He made an interesting point on how strong the chemical oxybenzone is. He noted that “Oxybenzone can cause an adverse effect in coral at 62 parts per trillion, that is equivalent to one drop of water in a six and a half Olympic pools..” (“Reefs at Risk”). With this study, it does not take a lot of Oxybenzone to affect water and the living organisms in it. Reducing the impact of tourism on our reefs is one step to help the reefs because it stopping tourists and locals from entering the coastal areas near the coral reefs with harmful sunscreen chemicals. More information about the chemicals like Oxybenzone should be taught to people due to the danger it can cause to the ocean and the reefs.

To summarize these topics, coral reefs are declining because of coral bleaching from warm ocean temperatures, land-based pollution, and tourism. Even though there are many people and organizations who are putting their time and effort to improve the state of coral reefs, there is a lot of work that has to be done because the world is changing every day. Coral reefs will continue to decline if people do not start noticing and caring for them. In order to make coral reef conservation familiar with everyone for them, they need to learn ways to protect and rehabilitate our lands and oceans. This means the reefs should be protected by having less stress put on them and having people feel the pressure of wanting to protect and help coral reefs survive in order for the human population to survive. A way we can help to decrease the chance of coral reefs to die is to plant trees because trees help to reduce runoff from going into the ocean. If this continues to happen then there will be no such thing as nice beaches around the world.

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