Coral Reefs and the Climate Change is a major global issue. According to the United Nations, 70% of the coral reefs are threatened and the lives and livelihood of 500 million people are at existential risk. Leticia Carvalho, head of United Nation Environmental Programme Marine and Freshwater Branch stated that, ”In the face of inaction, coral reefs will soon disappear.” It cannot be argued that coral reefs have pivotal importance to the world as it is disclosed by the United National that coral reefs contribute $375 billion to the global economy each year. The purpose of the report is to analyze the most important threat to coral reefs which includes: ocean acidification, unsustainable industrial practices and human activity. I chose this topic because I have a personal interest in biodiversity and ecosystems. This was one of the main reasons I kept all three sciences in O levels and plan to become a marine biologist.
Ocean acidification is defined as the conversion of a huge body of water into an acid. It is the result of high carbon dioxide levels in seas which results in an even lower ph.
According to the United Nations Ocean Conference (2017), marine pollution severely affects 44% of marine animals and 40% of seabird species. The main causes of ocean acidification include increased carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere due to pollution from industries and automobiles, deforestation, eutrophication and oil spills. Looking into a national perspective, in Pakistan, coral reef destruction for example along the Baluchistan coastline, destruction of coral reefs has discouraged already immature tourism in the province leading to a further loss of income for locals.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, skilled oceanographer, discoverer and oceanographer, believes that ocean acidification has harmful effects for the environment, humans and biodiversity. Firstly, ocean acidification leads to death of multiple aquatic species due to lack of oxygen, which leads to undesirable effects on world food chains and loss of biodiversity. For example, as stated in Reefs at Risk, ocean acidification has resulted in the decline of trigger fish which has resulted in abundant burrowing urchins, their prey, who feed on coral reefs thus, eroding them further (Reefs at Risk, 2011). Furthermore and most importantly, the most well-known ecosystem- coral reefs are endangered and die due to lack of oxygen to carry out photosynthesis to survive.
Depletion of Coral Reefs
Their depletion has extensive disadvantages for firstly, 4000 species of biodiversity which dies due to lack of food to feed on and secondly, for almost half a billion humans. Tourism is depleted as tourists who used to come to see the coral reefs no longer do and can’t even derive income from fishing. Coastal protection provided by corals against earthquakes is also not provided making the cost susceptible to shocks and risking lives of many. Looking into a global perspective, it is reported by the Oceana organization that about 60% of the coral reefs are killed by acidified water around them. Other than this, ocean acidification can lead to poisonous fish, lobsters and prawns. Due to lack of awareness, many people eat this poisonous food and lose their life. Fisheries that are endangered are also important to native culture. Taking into account a local perspective, For example shellfish and salmon in Washington are pivotal for the economy and culture of the Suquamish tribe and the lack of these animals jeopardize their way of life. Globally, the economy loses 1 trillion dollars due to destruction of coral reefs owing to ocean acidification (United Nations).
Toxic Waste and Climate Change
The main effect of climate change on coral reefs is bleaching which is basically the warming up of water in oceans which leads to corals producing algae: zooxanthellae which cause the coral to turn completely white. By 2016, half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached with another 20% being bleached in 2017 (CRUX, 2019). This national perspective shows the extent of climate change effects. Bleaching doesn’t necessarily imply that the coral reef is dead but it makes it subject to mortality. This event not only affects corals but also humans as bleached corals are not as attractive so naturally, the tourism rate drops down. Along with this they are also not efficient in protecting coastline from earthquakes or being a good source of food or fishing. Globally, sea levels can also rise and change in precipitation patterns can cause smothering of coral reefs due to sedimentation runoff and murky water due to pollutants runoff reducing sunlight available for photosynthesis. An article by Smithsonian magazine in 2020 highlights that the main reason for coral reefs death and bleaching is the increased Global temperatures.
The Paris Agreement
On a global scale, in 2016, owing to UNDP, “Paris Agreement” was signed between countries to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. The main course of action to counter ocean acidification, on a national level, the government can pass laws to limit the amount of pollution near oceans and factories that are built around oceans to limit increased carbon dioxide content to prevent water pollution and heavily fine those who violate them which will instill a sense of fear in people. Using advanced technology, the state can put CCTV cameras around oceans to monitor littering around it as if people know they are being monitored, they are less likely to surpass limits. On a personal scale, we all as respective citizens must do our fullest to reduce ocean acidification by not littering into oceans, setting up drives or volunteering in them to clean nearby oceans etc.
Unsustainable fishing practices
Unsustainable fishing practices imply fishing at a rate which leads to an abnormally sharp decline in fish species. About 55% of the coral reefs are destroyed due to unsustainable fishing practices (Coral Reef Alliance).
The main causes of unsustainable fishing include overfishing, catching baby fish especially in the breeding season, use of illegal nets, unfair fisheries partnership agreements, destruction of mangroves and water pollution caused by industrial and domestic waste. Unfair fisheries partnership agreements can allow foreign trawlers to fish in the breeding season, for example even in 1575, vessels from Europe were fishing for cod in the waters of the New World, off Newfoundland in present-day Canada (WWF).
All of these practices mentioned above have devastating consequences for coral reefs. Due to overfishing of herbivorous fish that eat seaweed, uncontrolled sprawl of seaweed can occur which can smother corals. About 50% of the coral reefs in the Caribbean have declined since 1970 due to unsustainable fishing practices taking place there (Guardian, 2014). Other than this, destructive fishing methods like using explosives to stun or kill fish destroy corals. Overfishing of fish species can lead to abundance of pathogens having carcinogenic properties to eat up coral reefs speeding up their decline.
In comparison to unsustainable fishing practices, climate change has had a greater impact on coral reefs as reported by National Geographic in 2020 that “unseasonably Warm Ocean has killed off a third of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef”.
Combatting these Practices
To combat unsustainable fishing practices, the government must introduce laws against foreign deep sea trawlers and locals overfishing ban illegal nets which have small holes to catch baby fish and strictly fine the breaking of these laws which will prevent fishermen from violating the rules. Moreover, environmentalists should have regular talks and awareness campaigns to raise awareness about the threatening effects to coral reefs and how each can play their part so that every citizen can be aware of ways to help and protect coral reefs. To counter effects of climate change, we all must start using renewable energy sources like solar or wind to reduce our carbon footprint. We all should also play our part by recycling, reusing, saying no to plastic, not littering and factories can shift to clean methods of production or at least take responsibility for disposing of their waste properly too, to avert water pollution. Considering this issue on a national scale, in Karachi (Pakistan), the MFD (Marine Fisheries Department) have executed projects as “monitoring of deep sea fishing vessels” and “strengthening of quality control laboratories” due to which the coral reefs in Pakistan are not under severe threat.
Through my research, I found out that there are comparatively very few marine scientists or biologists willing to look into coral reefs and finding real solutions to be implemented. This instigated my passion to continue my dream of marine biologist and specialize in the field on coral reefs and their protection. Moreover, after reviewing the WWF report on the Unfair Fisheries Agreement, I was stunned to find out how many countries allow illegal fishing in their waters to earn finance. This completely changed my perspective on developed countries and how they take advantage of developing countries’ need for money. After this, I have started to carefully review and make sure that my choices do not affect the mortality of coral reefs. This research has also taught me how to be intellectually open minded and consider different perspectives of each issue. I have also attained the talent to validate different sources of information and use it in a knowledgeable way. However, a major hurdle was deliberation of whether to research on climate change or coral bleaching due to their importance but I went with climate change as it had a wider range of credible sources of evidence available on it with understandable, easy to evaluate information. Overall, while writing this essay, I have learnt valuable skills that I will always keep in mind in the future.
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Coral Reefs and the Climate Change
In a nutshell, Climate change, however, bleached corals making them more susceptible to death and decreasing their popularity to gain income form especially tourism. Unsustainable fishing practices usually lead to smothering of coral reefs but I believe that climate change is the most threatening issue as it leads to ocean acidification so has double the consequences.