Thoughtful Thursdays: Climate Change is Killing our Coral Reefs

Published September 20, 2012

A Majority of Coral Reefs Will Be Damaged By 2030 Due to Rising Greenhouse Gases

The negative impacts of climate change have been widely reported. Temperatures continue to steadily rise, weather patterns are increasingly erratic and greenhouse gas emissions are causing alarming rates of CO2 to linger in our atmospheres. The ecosystem in the most immediate danger of total degradation from this changes is the ocean.

Orange mushroom and other various corals

Specifically, climate change impacts are wreaking havoc on our coral reef ecosystems. As temperatures rise, mass bleaching and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent and impossible to contain. The CO2 that lingers in the air above ground is also being absorbed into the ocean, altering the sea water chemistry in a process called ocean acidification.

"Think about putting your blue jeans in the laundry and putting in too much bleach. Well, they come out white. That's what happens to these corals. All these beautiful colors of this coral that you're looking at ... now what you would see is a field of white," said Brent Whitaker, National Aquarium Director of Biological Programs .

A vibrant sun polyp coral

The bleaching of coral reefs is usually brought on by unusually warm waters and stress. Shallow-water reefs, like those along our Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean, have been particularly harmed by prolonged periods of warmth - an estimated 16 percent of those reefs have been killed worldwide.

Queen Angel fish in our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit

After closely monitoring the effects these changes are having on ocean life, scientists have determined the rate at which the damage is happening. At least 70 percent of coral reefs are projected to suffer from degradation by 2030 without a dramatic change to carbon emissions, according to a Nature Climate Change study.

There is so much that we can do to protect our blue planet. To learn more about the National Aquarium's efforts to preserve our coral reef ecosystems and how you can get involved, click here.

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