Ocean Heat Waves Are Killing Coral Reefs and the Species That Depend on Them

You might be surprised to hear that rising ocean temperatures are starting to pose a major risk to marine species, as this study published in Nature reports. After all, marine ecology differs from terrestrial ecology – especially considering that oceans generally don’t experience weather, or “heat waves.”

The world’s oceans make for a massive heat sink. It takes a lot to alter ocean temperature, and this slow rate of change has enabled marine ecosystems to maintain more stability than land-based ecosystems.

But this stability may be temporary. Climate change has led to an increasing number of ocean “heat waves,” which scientists define as multi-day periods of abnormally high ocean temperatures. With higher frequency and longer duration, these heat waves are causing more damage to marine species.

And coral reef ecosystems appear to be the most at-risk. Because coral is a keystone species that many other species depend on, ocean heat waves could have a widespread impact on marine biodiversity.

Coral belongs to a group of ancient animals that were around for nearly half-a-billion years before humans appeared, but they may not be around much longer.

Coral bears the brunt of everything from shifting pH to hypoxia – and now ocean heat waves. Since coral is anchored in place and unable to move to a more hospitable environment when conditions become dangerous, reefs remain at the mercy of local abiotic factors.

Human-caused changes in the marine environment — primarily related to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, though other activities play a destructive role as well — are largely responsible for bleaching events, large-scale die-offs in coral reefs.

Scientist have recently confirmed that coral reefs are seeing ever slower and more uncertain recoveries. Because of their critical role in the ecosystem, the risk to coral reefs is also a threat to vast numbers of other ocean species — and ultimately to terrestrial ecosystems and human food stocks.

We’re at an extremely urgent turning point for marine conservation. If we don’t take drastic steps to avert disaster, there will be no going back.

Photo Credit: Sam Soffes/Unsplash

54 comments

Dot A
Dot A6 days ago

This subject proves once again that a river in Africa exists: named Denial. (the Nile) For some people even solid facts aren't sufficient to make a difference in what they choose to believe. My Aunt, Bless her heart, almost passed out when I said the word, "evolution." To her, such nonsense was an abomination. If we study the Earth's changes it is obvious that our climate has always been in a state of fluctuation. However, with human population in the billions, and all the chemicals used for nearly everything we do nowadays, the climate change has accelerate beyond healthy sustainability, especially in the rapidly approaching future. Apparently, it will take some frogs boiling to make the point a reality. Some folks live by what touches their lives in a very personal way. Others, study, investigate, compare, question, doubt, observe, seek truths, and try to comprehend greater truths than just what is in their own back yard, or what's cooking for dinner. Somehow, we hope and pray that we survive earth's most dangerous creature: - homo sapiens.

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Sherri S
Sherri S9 days ago

Humans will eventually destroy everything!

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Donna T
Donna T9 days ago

thank you

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R9 days ago

Thank you for posting.

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David C
David C10 days ago

climate change is real and very dangerous to life.....all life

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Janis K
Janis K10 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Carole R
Carole R10 days ago

This is really frightening. What a mess we have made.

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Winn A
Winn Adams10 days ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winn Adams10 days ago

:-(

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Carl R
Carl R10 days ago

Thanks!!

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