Written by Cate Lull, ESLLC 2018-2019
Atlantis is described as an underwater utopia, teeming with life and beauty unmatched by the wonders of the known world.What if this world really exists, and has even been discovered? Would you want to see it, preserve it, destroy it? This is precisely what is currently happening in oceans worldwide. Flourishing underwater havens, home to exotic fish species, are deteriorating right before our eyes. Atlantis is found worldwide in the form of coral reefs and because of the way humanity currently interacts with this fragile ecosystem, the reefs may soon be just as lost to us as Atlantis ever was. The main causes of this: Ocean acidification and global warming.
Even though the ocean accounts for only 66% of the global surface area, it has absorbed 93% of excess heat trapped on the earth’s surface from greenhouse gas emissions. This has greatly affected reefs, that are especially sensitive sea life. Contrary to popular belief, coral is not actually a plant, but an immobile animal. This affects its ability to move to cooler waters. 60% of all reefs are now threatened by bleaching, in the Great Barrier Reef alone, 90% of the coral has already been affected. This change was beautifully documented in the Netflix Original “Chasing Coral”.
While the reefs constitute only a small fraction of the expansive oceans, they are home to 25% of all known marine life. Warming ocean temperatures are bleaching, and effectively killing the corals. An increase in global carbon dioxide use is increasing ocean acidity which slows coral growth. The death of coral reefs will have a tremendous impact on life as we know it. The loss of shelter will also mean the loss of fish, a staple in the diets or larger marine mammals. Coastal communities that depend on fish for food and income will suffer economically and will be a greater risk of tsunami-like coastal surging and coastal erosion. Additionally, island bird life will decrease as their main food source disappears, and with it so will the nutrients in the soil (provided by bird droppings) that sustain plant life.
The good news is that humanity is seen as the key to, and the only hope of, reversing these effects. As a species, we need to be reducing our carbon footprint which is responsible for coral bleaching and a multitude of other environmental problems. Similarly, we need to change the agricultural system whose nutrient and soil dense runoff is being deposited into, and poisoning, our oceans. On an individual level we can use our dollar bills as votes, and choose to buy sunscreen that is not chemically based as these chemicals are proven to be harmful to sea life. Maybe if we can do some of these things before it’s too late, we can rediscover the hidden biome of coral reefs.
To view a time lapse of coral bleaching click here.
To watch the documentary Chasing Coral click here.