Coral is a living being that resides within the ocean, forming beautiful, artistic reefs when combined with other coral. The reefs contain hard, bony structure, like little fish buildings under water, that offer shelter and protection to a variety of marine life. Algae is one of the oldest living things on Earth. It has drifted in the oceans for millions of years. It has the capability of attaching to essentially anything to be able to reproduce.
When coral and algae combine, a beautiful marriage of the two beings occurs. Coral offers protection as well as nutrients in the form of carbon for the algae. The algae performs photosynthesis which in turn provides food for the coral. The relationship is perfect in every way, offering symbiosis to both living things.
This relationship between coral and algae has gone on for hundreds of millions of years. But unfortunately, things aren’t going so well anymore. Just as in any other relationship, stress can have detrimental effects. Coral reefs are getting stressed out, which is forcing the algae to move on to other areas where the coral isn’t as stressed. The algae is leaving some areas in droves, causing mass casualties in the coral. This effect is known as coral bleaching and it is tearing apart reefs throughout the world.
In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, one of the largest coral reefs on the planet, has been almost entirely “bleached.” At this time, a whopping 93% of the reef has been abandoned by its algae! This is hugely significant as it is the largest coral bleaching event to ever be recorded. It is also possibly one of the biggest relationship divisions on Earth since South America left Africa when Pangea split up. So what is the cause of this catastrophic event?
Well, the most significant stressor for coral is the change in temperature on the surface of the ocean. When water temperatures become too warm or too cold, algae cannot photosynthesize as effectively and therefore, it moves on to another location where it’s activity is not inhibited. Because of humans, climate changes have become a serious problem, pushing the water temperatures to much higher levels than normal. Australia’s oceans have also become warmer due to the effects of El Niño, whose affects have become even more extreme recently due to greenhouse warming over the entire planet.
Thus, because of the rise in temperature, the algae have moved on, leaving behind the beautiful Great Barrier Reef and causing imminent danger. Once temperatures settle back to normal, there are part of the reef that will recover their loss in algae. But that won’t help the large parts of the reef that have already permanently died because of the algae loss.
In addition, climate change around the globe will continue the rise in water temperatures unless drastic changes are made. In other words, unless we doing something significant to change our actions, coral stressors will continue to grow and bleaching will continue to rise across the globe. There are already millions of reasons that we should be trying to prevent climate change, but this is another. This reef has survived millions of years and we want it to continue to survive so that our children and our children’s children may enjoy its splendor.