The world’s coral reefs – Technicolor underwater visions teaming with marine life – are gradually turning into rubble and ruins, as rising sea temperatures and climate change are wiping them out in mass executions. Scientists in Hawaii, however, are nudging along evolution in the hope of creating a super coral that will come to the rescue.
Coral, you see, is not just a pretty polyp. The living reef has a symbiotic relationship with the algae that inhabits it – the algae provide the coral organisms with food. But higher acidity levels and water temperatures in the world’s oceans are triggering a phenomenon known as coral bleaching, and under these changing conditions, the coral can become stressed and expel the algae, turning white or yellow in the process. Without the algae, the coral grows weaker and weaker, and if it’s unable to recover from the bleaching, it eventually dies.
Mass bleaching isn’t just an aesthetic thing – it’s actually a major problem for all of us, because coral reefs are a vital part of underwater ecosystems, providing food and shelter for marine life. While the coral reef ecosystems cover less than 2% of the earth’s ocean floors, a quarter of all marine species rely on them.
They also absorb CO2 and provide shelter for shorelines, helping prevent land erosion. People living around coral reefs not only rely on the food they provide, but reefs also propel tourism economies, attracting divers and snorkellers to experience their beauty. So while they may seem ornamental, they’re integral to how the both natural world works and to many people’s livelihoods.
Scientists have warned about the demise of the world’s coral reefs by 2050 if the sea temperatures continue to rise as they are. According to the WWF’s Living Blue Planet report from September last year, tropical reefs have lost more than half of their reef-building corals over the past 30 years. MORE
By Sarah Sherman