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10 Threats to the World’s Stunning Coral Reefs

10 Threats to the World’s Stunning Coral Reefs
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Coral reefs: stunning, diverse, found worldwide, and incredibly fragile, despite the fact that they look like they’re made from stone. These delicate, beautiful structures are microcosms, communities filled with organisms living in a mutually beneficial world that provides food, shelter and protection from harsh weather. Sadly, 25% of coral reefs are already hopelessly damaged, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and many others face serious threats.

Combating damage to coral reefs requires understanding the multifaceted nature of the threats against their survival, and determining the best way to address these environmental issues before it’s too late. The loss of coral reefs would be tragic not just because we’d miss something beautiful in the world, but because they also play an important environmental role.

A coral reef viewed from above the surface of the water.

1. Ocean Acidification

Associated with climate change, ocean acidification occurs as atmospheric CO2 rises and the ocean absorbs it. The oceans have been burdened with a huge percentage of the rapidly-rising CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, and they aren’t equipped to handle it. Historically, the ocean’s pH was relatively stable. Today, it’s dropping due to reactions between seawater and CO2, and corals are missing out on valuable carbonate ions they need to form. Not only that, but as the level of dissolved CO2 in the ocean rises, it appears to be directly damaging coral skeletons, causing them to break and crumble.

2. Coral Bleaching

Thanks to climate change, the ocean is getting warmer. Corals, along with many other organisms in the sea, are extremely sensitive to small temperature changes. In their case, they can react to temperature increases by expelling their critical symbiotic algae, known as zooxanthellae. How critical? They provide up to 80% of the energy needed by the coral to survive, so when they leave, the coral is at risk of dying off — and it acquires a distinctive pale color, explaining the term “bleaching.”

3. Pollution

Coral, like the rest of us, doesn’t take kindly to toxins in its environment, and when exposed to chemical and industrial pollution, it can die. Moreover, corals are at risk of what is known as “nutrient pollution,” where the ocean becomes rich in nutrients as a result of fertilizer release, animal waste and related materials. It turns out there is such a thing as too much of a good thing — algae swarm in and bloom in response to the sudden food source, and they choke out the coral population. Better pollution controls and conservation are critical to prevent this issue.

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Photo credits: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Anna Fox, USFWS - Pacific Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USFWS - Pacific Region.

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181 comments

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9:09PM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

All caused by humans.......

3:44AM PDT on Jul 20, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

6:20PM PDT on Jul 6, 2013

When I've seen coral grow it doesn't seem to be reliant upon all that went on down the branch. So when they're cleaved off by storm or man's breaking it - why do the polyps die? Can't they go on building longer, thicker, or spread out to continue life/living? Are they like trees which need the roots to bring more nutrients? What is it they need from the polyps below that once broken off - they perish? If they have bacteria and chlorophyllic material they get sustenance from - why would breaking them make them die? I would think that no matter where they land - if not subverse from the sun they should be able to go on living and building more coral. I didn't think even the hollows of corals past made a difference to those higher up and vice-versa.

10:30AM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

Grazie per l'articolo.

8:13PM PDT on Jun 26, 2013

Human GREED & STUPIDITY!

3:08PM PDT on Jun 24, 2013

has everyone seen the coral reefs; i haven't ....though i dreamed of doing so as a child.

10:45AM PDT on Jun 24, 2013

we must look after every living thing on this planet and anything we do is better than doing nothing at all....it is a beautiful planet lets keep it that way!!!

5:16PM PDT on Jun 23, 2013

How sad. I have read this story several times and each time I've been left with nothing to say.

How sad. To lose the natural beauty of coral reefs. I do not swim, therefore I can only see the beauty second hand.

The World is losing so many beautiful things. For some reason this particular loss saddens me more, especially at a time we seem to be accumulating losses at an alarming rate.

How sad.

2:30PM PDT on Jun 23, 2013

Great article......Going to share with local scouts.....thank you!!!!!

2:26PM PDT on Jun 23, 2013

Great article......Going to share with local scouts.....thank you!!!!!

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