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August 14, 2017
By Ariadne Weinberg,  Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Registered
Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial

Take a deep breath. The oxygen-rich air that fills your
lungs comes in large part from the coral reefs of the
world's oceans.  This is why it is so alarming to learn that
our vast coral reef system, after years of climate stress,
actually is dying.

When you imagine an underwater tropical landscape, you
see that vivid array of coral reef with brilliant colors.

Maybe you envision snorkeling amongst fantastical animals,
clownfish, turtles, hopefully not a shark.

Maybe your image of a reef and coral has more to do with
the Hollywood depictions, such as Finding Nemo.

Coral reef is amazing. The landscape is so large, so  
massive, that if you were in a spacecraft, the reef’s
cornucopia of colors would be the only living thing you
could see from space.

If you’ve never been to coral reef landscape (I haven’t
yet), you probably think of something pretty romantic and
positive. You’d never imagine a brittle, white skeletal coral
reef without those vibrant colors and without fish and little
animals living amongst it.

But unfortunately, that’s just what’s happening. The coral
reef ecosystem around the world is dying. And that matters
to your health, for the coral reef provides oxygen to the
world's oceans and therefore, indirectly, to you.

Now, here is a shocking statistic. Scientists estimate that
world has lost roughly half of coral reefs in the last 30
. Even more disturbing, experts predict that more
than 90 percent of the world’s coral reef will die by 2050.

Wait, how did this happen? What do we do?! Let’s start
with the basics.

What Is a Coral Reef?

While they have the look of something non-moving and
almost plant or rocklike, coral are animals. An invertebrate
in tropical water, the entity secretes calcium carbonate to
build a protective skeleton.

The brilliant, happy color comes from algae that live in the
coral tissues and provide them with energy; a nicely
symbiotic relationship.

Fabian Cousteau, aquanaut and founder of the Fabian
Cousteau Ocean Learning Center defines them this way:
“Coral is a complex colony, if you will, of animals. Basically,
there are two components — the hard structure, and then
the residents, which are the zooxanthellae, and those are
the polyps; those are what give the coral color.”

What’s Happening to the Coral Reef?

Coral thrives in a temperature-specific environment.
Change the temperature even 1 to 2 degrees Celsius and
the thing dries up, causing bleaching, where instead of nice
colors, the coral is only white.

Enter climate change. While if the water cools relatively
rapidly after a hot period the coral will be okay, this is not
what’s actually happening in our current environment. The
temperatures are staying high and killing the resident coral

Not only does this affect the coral, but also the whole
surrounding ecosystem.

When Did This All Start?

The first global bleaching event happened in 1998, when
16% of the corals died.

In 2015 and 2016 when the El Niño climate change hit the
Pacific, the next big wave of coral destruction occurred.

However, coral reef has probably been eroding for a much
longer time. In 2014, N.A. Graham and researchers from
the James Cook University in Queensland, Australia
conducted a spatial assessment of coral reef communities
across five reefs of the central Great Barrier Reef, Australia,
with known disturbance histories. They analyzed  patterns
of coral cover and community composition related to a
range of other variables thought to be important for reef
dynamics. Three of the reefs had been gravely affected by
crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and coral bleaching
approximately a decade before the surveys, from which
only one of them was showing signs of recovery according
to surveys.

Coral reefs are sensitive and they are still having a hard
time recovering now due to global warming.

Is There a Solution?

For now, kind of sort of. Technology has come partially to
the rescue here, but the science is still in the exploratory

Fabian Cousteau describes experimental installations of 3-D
reefs that have been installed in the Caribbean,
mediterranean, Persian Gulf, and Australia. The printed
coral-like structures are meant to be a stabilizer for the
affected ecosystem:

“When [the polyps] are disrupted, they eject themselves,
and that’s when you get the coral bleaching. [With 3D
printing], we’re creating structure, we’re creating the
buildings, the infrastructure or the housing, if you will, for
those zooxanthellae to come back.”

Why Should We Care, Though?

If you’re one of those humans who is solely self-serving, or
who just likes the human race thriving thing, keep reading.

The disappearance of a coral reef doesn’t only affect the
underwater critters, but us as well.

“To lose coral reefs is to fundamentally undermine the
health of a very large proportion of the human race,”
affirms Ruth Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of
Marine Biology.

She points out several pretty logical reasons as to why:

Coral reefs provide a whole lot of oxygen to everyone.
They are are often referred to as the “underwater

They provide barriers to protect coastlines from storms.
Those who live near them are better off because of their
presence. They also provide billions of dollars amongst
several industries, including: fishing, tourism, and
Soon, we won’t be able to go visit those reefs or use any of
their resources.

Coral is also used in medical research for cures, including
cancer, arthritis, and bacteria.

Is There Any Hope?

While the reef might not be the same, Cousteau affirms that
one of nature’s rule is adaptation. When there are
vacancies in coral reefs, other animals will go in there and
live there.

They won’t necessarily be the ones a coral reef will thrive
on, but there will be a change of species and colors.

We may also be able to take care of some of the other
reefs, in the meanwhile:  

Richard Vevers of Nottingham University and Captain of the
Ocean Agency, started a project called 50 Reefs, whose
goal is to identify reefs with the best chance of survival in
warming oceans and bring them to the public’s attention.
According to Vevers: “For the reefs that are least
vulnerable to climate change, the key will be to protect
them from all the other issues they are facing - pollution,
overfishing, coastal development.”  The idea is that if these
reefs thrive, “they can hopefully become the vital seed-
centres that can repopulate surrounding reefs.”

Of course, we can also help the predicted remaining 10%
of reefs by working to slow down climate change.


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The Great Barrier Reef, the largest living
thing on Earth, is dying.