NOAA warns about impending Great Barrier Reef bleach

Published: April 28, 2016

PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / BLEACHED CORAL (left) gets its name from its white complexion. The bleached appearance is caused by the departure of the algae that usually reside in the coral. The loss of this algae makes the coral more susceptible to disease. Rising ocean temperatures are causing conservationists to worry about the well being of this beautiful environment. The only way to preserve this wonder is by cutting down on global waste and emission.

PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / BLEACHED CORAL (left) gets its name from its white complexion. The bleached appearance is caused by the departure of the algae that usually reside in the coral. The loss of this algae makes the coral more susceptible to disease. Rising ocean temperatures are causing conservationists to worry about the well being of this beautiful environment. The only way to preserve this wonder is by cutting down on global waste and emission.

ALEX HABER
Science and Tech Editor

The increased amount of gaseous emissions in the last 25 years has led to a steady increase in the temperature of the planet as a whole.

Living on land, we as members of the human species often forget that there is another world under the ocean whose environment depends heavily on how we treat the world we live in.

The rise in global air temperature has led to a steady increase in the temperature of the ocean all throughout the globe. Now, one of the eight Natural Wonders of the World is in danger of eradication.

The Great Barrier Reef, located off the Northeastern coast of Australia, is in danger of bleaching. Caused by the rising ocean temperatures, it is projected that upwards of 80 percent of the coral will bleach within the next generation.

Bleaching of coral most often occurs in warming ocean temperatures that cause the coral to expel algae living within it. The loss of the algae within the coral gives bleached coral its white appearance. While the coral is not dead at this point, there is a dramatic increase in the mortality of the coral.

Not only can increased water temperatures cause bleaching, but decreased water temperatures also cause coral to bleach. Take for example, the bleaching of the coral in the Florida Keys in 2010. A decrease in ocean temperature by 12.06 degrees Fahrenheit caused the bleaching of the coral, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association. Another case of bleaching close to home occurred in the Caribbean in 2005, this time the bleaching was caused by an increase in ocean temperature.

Aforementioned, the coral does not die immediately when bleaching occurs, rather it is the susceptibility to disease when bleached that leads to the increase in the mortality of coral. The process of bleaching is reversible and preventable. Some pieces of coral have mechanisms developed to counteract the process of bleaching, thus allowing them to retain the algae growing within them. Some coral are able to detect minute changes in the environment around them that are precursors to rising water temperatures. The coral, if sufficiently warned and capable of protecting themselves, are more likely to survive bleaching.

Although there are mechanisms to help protect the coral, if the temperature exceeds certain thresholds it can be lethal. If we continue on the path that we currently are on, we may destroy this unique biome.

Thankfully it is not too late. It is still possible to prevent the loss of one of the most beautiful natural habitats in the world. It may appear that as a population we are inveterate polluters, but there is still hope. If we all contribute to making our lives greener, we can cut emissions and prevent this tragedy from becoming reality.

Contact the writer: alexander.haber@scranton.edu

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