We are currently at the beginning of a global massive coral collapse and the majority of humanity is completely oblivious to it. Why does this matter? Because 25% of marine life directly depends on coral colonies, about a billion people depend on that marine life as their main source of protein, more and more medicine is being made with the cancer healing properties coral carry, coral reefs protect our shorelines from typhoons and cyclones- they act as natural barriers. Let’s take a look at what happens when these natural barriers disappear.
Over the past few months we have been living through hurricane after hurricane in the Caribbean and Atlantic waters.
Hurricane Harvey pounded Texas in August. While Irma was among one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded with maximum of 298 kph (185 mph) completely flattening Caribbean islands Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin/Saint Maarten, St. Barthemely, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Anguilla, the British and US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, where it continued on towards the Bahamas, and US mainland in September leaving behind massive destruction, causalities, and years ahead of repairs.
Hurricane Katia later formed in the Gulf of Mexico striking Mexico hard and Jose followed suit right behind Irma in the eastern Atlantic. Hurricane Maria followed on 18 September completely leveling and destroying Caribbean island Dominica. Tropical Storm Nate, which later turned into a Hurricane and made landfall on the US, caused massive devastation in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Heavy rains, landslides, and floods collapsing roads, pieces of land crumbling from the saturation of water, destroyed bridges and houses carried away with the floods were all a sad reality with Nate. In Costa Rica, where I live, around 400,000 people are still without running water and thousands sleeping in shelters.
Hurricanes feed off of warm water temperatures and winds. Irma grew in power because sea temperatures where the hurricane formed, were around 29°C (85°F), ideal temperatures for fueling hurricane growth. Our waters are experiencing unnatural peaks in warming due to our current lifestyles and this is only the beginning.
After these numerous devastating hurricanes, further research has proven that coral reefs play a significant role in reducing storm surges during extreme weather events. In the past 250 years, we have lost over half of Florida’s 579 km-long (360 mile) Florida Reef Tract and it is estimated that less than 10% of Florida reefs contain living coral. With Hurricane Irma estimated at causing over $200 billion in damage, protecting and preserving our coral reef ecosystems has a direct impact on our economy (Chelsea Harvey, The Washington Post).
A coral is an animal made up of millions of tiny polyps, circular mouths surrounded by tentacles. These polyps are made up of micro-algae, which synthesize inside the coral to create food to feed the coral system. Corals are extremely sensitive to touch and water temperatures. Increasing the temperatures of the sea by just 2°C can cause what is called coral bleaching. Coral bleaching occurs when the tiny micro-algae living inside the coral loses its ability to feed its host. The coral senses that it has something inside of it that does not function, its natural reaction is to try to get rid of it. Just as your body tries to fight off antibodies when you’re sick. As the coral expulses the micro-algae, what is left behind if the transparent white cell. The coral then begins to starve, turning white or bleaching exposing its skeleton.
According to research from the documentary Chasing Coral, the first massive coral bleaching occurred in 1997-1998, the second in 2010, and the third in 2015. We were experiencing massive heat waves around the planet, killing off all coral and leaving behind a coral graveyard. These heat waves are a direct result of climate change driven by emitting carbon into our atmosphere. 93% of heat trapped in our atmosphere is going into the ocean. Humanity is the direct cause of this global coral collapse and we are oblivious to it. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, an expanse of about 2,000km (1,242 miles- the length of the entire eastern US coast) and the largest living ecosystem in the world, has lost 29% of its coral (Chasing Coral).
Corals are similar to our trees in forests; they are the foundation for entire ocean ecosystems. Without them, we cannot survive and we will continue to see more and more deadly destruction along our coasts if we don’t change our habits and wake up to our reality. We need to make a the shift to clean energy, reduce our energy consumption, support clean jobs, and join local actions, we still have time and we cannot give up.
To watch the film, host a screening, learn more about coral bleaching, and find out ways to make changes towards a cooler planet go to: http://www.chasingcoral.com/#film