Yes, here we go again – climate change. I bet there are several people who feel overwhelmed or who are simply just tired of reading and listening about the topic but it is accurate, a huge problem and we need to be reminded and act to do something for our planet. When we talk about climate change and global warming, quite often we look through human perspective. With this post I want to delve on wildlife. Since, this blog is Asia centered, I decided to focus on coral reefs and how are they impacted by climate change. It is not only changing human way of living a much more important part is affected every day who we as humans rely on too.
Climate change does not respect border, it does not respect who you are — rich and poor, small and big. Therefore, this is what we call global challenges which require global solidarity. (-Ban Ki-moon, 2011)
First things first, when we talk about climate change then what do we exactly mean with that? Climate change is a change in a typical or average weather of a region or city (NASA, n.d.). It has several impacts: temperatures (global warming) and sea levels are rising, sea ice is melting, precipitation patterns are changing (=some places are getting more rainfalls than others), oceans are acidifying, floods, wildfires, storms are getting stronger and more devastating (NASA, n.d.).
There are several graphs, statistics, articles etc. on climate change as well as, documentaries for anyone who wants to get more into depth with the details. I recently watched Leonardo DiCaprio produced and Fisher Stevens directed documentary called “Before the Flood” which I can highly recommend.
Source: A. Mirandam (own work) from Wikimedia Commons
According to Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, coral reefs are ecosystems, often called as rainforests of the sea, they are most diverse of all marine ecosystems. They offer habitat for thousands of species of fish, clams, shrimps, sea stars, sponges, sea turtles and many other animals. Coral reefs need clear and well circulating water to anchor and grow. (The Ocean Portal Team, n.d.)
The biggest and most remarkable coral reef is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, it is one of the seven wonders of the natural world (over 3000km of length and around 65 km wide) (Great Barrier Reef).
If you are interested in reading more about coral reefs, there are several good webpages with lots of information, for instance http://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/coral-reef-ecology/ or watch National Geographic 3-minute movie here.
Corals get stressed too
Corals have feelings like we humans have, meaning they get stressed by warmer temperatures. According to The Nature Conservancy, coral bleaching is the cause of the stress that corals experience, meaning that they lose their beautiful bright color and turn white due to excessive sunlight and warmer temperatures. They expel their brown algae, which starts to produce toxic compounds when temperatures are too warm. (The Nature Conservancy, n.d.)
Coral bleaching can happen to individual corals but also as a mass event. The first recorded mass bleaching took place in 1979 with El Nino events. (The Nature Conservancy, n.d.)
El Nino means unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific (Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, n.d.). The second global bleaching happened 31 years later in 2010 and is happening now again. Today, bleaching occurs due to global warming: warmer temperatures, ocean acidification from carbon dioxide (reduces calcifications thus, cannot grow), sea level rise prevents corals to get enough sunlight. However, corals can recover but this depends how much damage has already been done. (The Nature Conservancy, n.d.)
Source: NOAA 2015B; Underwater earth 2015
Coral reefs in ASEAN
Reefs have also a big part on economy. In fields of food security, employment, tourism, pharmaceutical research and shoreline protection (Burke, 2002). According to Lauretta Burke research “Reefs at risk in Southeast Asia”, reefs in Philippines and Indonesia give benefits equivalent to US$1.1billion and US$1.6billion per year. Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are top mega diverse countries in the region. Yet, due to climate change, these states face biodiversity decline in upcoming years. (Burke, 2002)
Thailand has already shut down ten popular diving sites to slow the coral bleaching crisis because individuals tend to touch the reefs and stand on them (The Guardian, 2016).
According to the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, Thailand is on crisis in regards of coral reefs, stating that fifty per cent coral reefs are gone due to diving tourism and fishing industry (Legacy Phuket Gazette, 2012).
Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia are also part of coral triangle which is 6 million km2 area covering parts or the entirety total of 6 countries (+Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste) (WWF Global, n.d.). Below is the map of The Coral Triangle Region.
Some facts about the coral triangle (WWF Global):
- There are at least 500 species of reef-building corals
- Has 76% of the world’s coral species
- More fish diversity than anywhere else in the world with 37% of the coral reef fish species and 56% of coral reef fishes in the Indo-Pacific region
- Six of total in seven world’s marine turtle species
- 15 species that are not known nowhere else in the world
- Home to the blue whale and the sperm whale, dolphins and porpoises, endangered dugong
- 120 million people benefit from the area, 2.25 million of them are fishers who depend on coral triangle
However, as beautiful as it all sounds, coral triangle faces many threats: climate change, overfishing and illegal fishing, unsustainable tourism, habitat destruction and poor governance. In fact, coral reefs will disappear in the area by 2100 if responsible actions are not taken. (WWF Global)
For humans, it could mean that the food chain will collapse and the economic value will be gone. No tourism, no pharmaceutical research, no jobs and no food. What then?
Watch an interesting 13-minute documentary about coral triangle here.
YOU can help
What we need to understand is that coral bleaching is direct cause of global warming. It is not only corals who suffer, it is dolphins, tigers, polar bears, sea turtles, whales and many more. I believe that every individual should do at least something even if it does not seem much, to help stop climate change or to prevent rapid movement of the process.
Small actions can lead to bigger ones. Ride bikes instead of cars, cut your meat-eating habits (I am not saying be vegetarian – too sensitive topic), improve water use, do not throw trash into sea or anywhere else where it definitely does not belong, avoid plastic, plant, attend community events that clean forests and sea. In addition, and most importantly educate yourself (be a conscious consumer) on what is going around you, what changes are occurring and causes for it. Below is a chart that shows how much a single person can contribute to help in the crisis of climate change and how much a certain action actually helps.
Source: Wynes & Nicholas 2017 from Popular Science
There are several organizations that work in favor of coral reefs by maintaining reef management or reducing threats. They are usually non-profit organizations where you could donate money, like coral.org and http://www.coraltrianglecenter.org/ which organizes educational programs as well, or just simply offer your help.
On the other hand, if you do not feel comfortable donating money, you can start by taking the small actions as I mentioned previously, to stop climate change and you will already make a difference. There is a great app called Seafood Watch which wants to raise awareness about sustainable seafood issues and gives recommendations about different species. Basically, while shopping you can type in the type of fish you would like to buy and the app will tell you if you should avoid it because it is overfished or you are safe to go.
The easiest way to help is to spread the word, share this article with your friends or just talk about the climate change and the condition of corals with your parents, classmates etc. We are all responsible, do something!
PS! If you decide to donate, please do your research beforehand and know exactly where your money goes. For instance, there are webpages which have rated different charities like https://www.charitynavigator.org/ that you could look up. Or just contact the charity via phone/email to ask how your donation will be used and how they allocate their funds.
Burke, L. (2002). Research: Reefs at risk in Southeast Asia
Great Barrier Reef webpage: http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/
Legacy Phuket Gazette. (2012, 25 August). Thailand’s coral reefs 50% gone: Phuket marine biologist.
Nasa Global Climate Change: https://climate.nasa.gov/
Ocean Portal: http://ocean.si.edu/corals-and-coral-reefs
Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory: https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/elnino/what-is-el-nino
The Guardian. (2016, 26 May). Thailand closes dive sites over coral bleaching crisis.
The Nature Conservancy:
WWF Global: http://wwf.panda.org/