Headlines across the global bared some pretty bad news recently: that 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef is dying, meaning that the Natural World Wonder is headed to extinction. In fact, according to a report conducted by Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting, the world has already lost 27 percent of its total reefs, and it’s expected that 60 percent will be gone in 30 years. While it’s apparent that those numbers are big and bad – do dying coral reefs really matter to humans?
The B –Word: Bleaching
Only 7 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has escaped bleaching, which is a phenomena that occurs when the colorful organisms (like algae) that live symbiotically within the tissues of coral are ejected during times of stress, which leaves the coral white and exposed. Many scientists attribute stress to warmer water temperatures and other harmful environmental factors. It’s an event that has only just started happening in the last 20 years.
C. Mark Eakin, the Coral Reef Watch coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Maryland, told The New York Times in a recent interview that, "We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed. . . We are going to lose a lot of the world's reefs during this event."
So What Do Reefs Do For Us?
According to the World Wildlife Federation coral reefs provide “close to $30 billion each year in goods and services.” Imagine a commercial for a tropical vacation without the happy family mingling with colorful fish in pristine waters decorated by a flourishing reef.
Aside from being focal points for tourism, coral reefs are home to 25 percent of all of marine species. They provide food and revenue for local communities.
“Some estimates say that over 1 billion people depend on food from coral reefs,” reports Nature.com.
Reefs also work as barriers between the energy of waves and storms (like hurricanes) and land. The World Wildlife Federation reports that reefs save billions of dollars each year in terms of reduced insurance and reconstruction costs and reduced need to build costly coastal defenses - not to mention the reduced human cost of destruction and displacement.”
Is It Too Late?
As many scientists believe it’s too late to save many of the earth’s coral reefs that are already experiencing bleaching. Positively, it is possible to prevent further destruction by lessening negative human impacts like: over-fishing, irresponsible ocean recreation and leaving a large carbon footprint.
One person alone can't solve the problem, which is why monitoring environmental legislation and voting is important when it comes to dying coral reefs and their protection.
With coral reefs present in 109 countries across the globe, this is an issue that affects nearly everyone.
"We're losing the Arctic ice, it looks like we're going to lose the coral reefs and we could lose much of the rainforest. I find it disconcerting that these ecosystems that have been around on Earth for a long, long time are no longer able to survive," Oceanographer, Ken Caldeira The Guardian.