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GreenLeap News » Coral Reefs Dying - Global Warming to Blame

Coral Reefs Dying - Global Warming to Blame

In honor of Earth Day, April 22, we will, throughout this month, highlight issues related to an extreme environmental challenge we all face -- global warming. Stay tuned…

Coral reefs are invaluable habitats for a dazzling array fish and invertebrates. Frequently called “rainforests of the ocean,” coral reefs are one of the earth’s most endangered habitats and, yes, you guessed it, global warming seems largely to blame.

Though coral reefs comprise just .025% of the marine environment, over a quarter of all ocean inhabitants spend at least part of their life on them. More than this, these reefs also provide $30 billion in food and tourism revenue each year and serve as storm buffers for coasts and islands.

The world’s coral reefs face a number of threats including pesticide run-off, silting, destructive fishing (using dynamite and poisons), pollution related algae blooms and physical damage from tourism, anchorages, dredging and waste dumping. However, global warming seems to be having… well, the most global impact.

The C02 we release is not just warming our atmosphere; it is causing sea temperatures to rise and many ocean areas to become more acidic. Coral reefs survive in a small band of warm water temperatures. In normal conditions, coral provides home and nourishment (in the form of carbon dioxide and waste materials) to yellow-green algae called zooxanthellae; the algae in turn provide coral with food from photosynthesis. Warming outside of coral’s comfort zone causes coral to eject its resident algae, which in turn causes the coral to lose the food, color and structure the algae provided. The result is coral bleaching, damage and death.

Scientists estimate that 30% of the world reefs are already damaged and a vastly greater percent is at risk because of warming waters. Coral reefs grow at an average rate of 1.5 cm per year (approximately 1 foot over 20 years). With this slow marching pace, any changes we inflict upon our world reefs will not be quickly reversed.

Source: World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund, Tim Flannery - The Weather Makers, Environmental Defense, MSNBC

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Green Fact:
Hundreds of migrating sea turtles are threatened every year by commercial fishing boats dragging metal nets to dredge for scallops. All five species of turtles are threatened or endangered, but the U.S. government has yet to take action.
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