Bad News for Coral Reefs: Global Warming Causes Bleaching & Death

coral-reef-fish photo

Image Credit: mattk1979 via Flickr
Global warming has done a lot of damage this summer, from deadly flooding in Pakistan to the heat wave of the millennium in Russia. Now, the New York Times reports, there's another victim to add to the list: coral reefs. While you may take a swim to cool off, being underwater isn't enough to protect coral reefs, among the most biologically diverse environments on earth, from the impacts of increased temperatures. The reefs are bleached by the heat, losing their color and eventually dying. This summer has seen the worst instances of coral bleaching since 1998 (2010 has been the hottest year since then), when 16% of the world's shallow water reefs perished. Many surviving reefs still haven't fully recovered.

To make the news even worse, coral reefs are among the most heat-sensitive organisms in the ocean, meaning that the impacts of global warming on the ocean environments will soon be felt by heartier species, especially as many lose the coral reefs they call home. Clive Wilkinson, director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, isn't alone in saying: "I am significantly depressed by the whole situation."

The faint silver lining is that the coral, which lose their color when the metabolisms of resident algae are overworked and create toxins, can recuperate. But that's only if temperatures drop again, which doesn't seem likely.

So if you want to see the world's beautiful and life-filled reefs before they're all gone, it might be time to take your vacation days and grab your scuba gear. But if you want the reefs to stick around long enough that your children can enjoy them (and if you believe they have a right to exist), it's definitely time to join the good fight against global warming.

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Check out some of TreeHugger's best stories on coral reefs:
Underwater Museum to Protect Coral Reefs in Mexico
Caribbean Coral Reef Conservation Ignores Evolution
6 Steps to Saving the World's Coral Reefs

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