The iconic and breathtakingly beautiful coral reefs that are found around the world are truly a sight to behold. They are diverse underwater ecosystems that harbour some of the worlds most fantastic, joyous and in some instances deadly species. The Great Barrier Reef (photo in set) is colossal. I’m sure that it has made the bucket list of many people, some of you reading this may have been lucky enough to have seen it for yourself. However, much like a number of Earth’s natural wonders, human agency seems to lead to its destruction..
“Coral bleaching is something that happens when corals become stressed causing them to expel the algae that live within their tissues.”
These endosymbionts provide corals with the carbohydrates (via photosynthesis) they need to survive. This expulsion of algae causes the coral to turn white (hence the term ‘bleaching’), and while in this bleached state the coral are left vulnerable and may never recover.
It may surprise you to learn that it isn’t just current events that get corals all stressed. We are currently looking at the biggest temperature rise in modern history. With Carbon dioxide levels also at the highest they’ve been for well over 800,000 years! Take a look at this global temperature increase diagram I spotted over at IFLS.
It is this rise in carbon dioxide that is decimating coral reefs around the world, in particular the Great Barrier Reef, where it was recently discovered that up to 93% of the reef is already affected by some degree of bleaching, with some areas expected to never fully recover. It therefore seems logical to suggest that reducing the release of carbon dioxide should be the primary focus and it is critical that current levels are managed.
Geo-engineering involves a range of techniques for large scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to try to combat climate change. An exciting new concept is to preserve and enhance currant vegetated costal systems – specifically salt marshes, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. The ability of these systems to isolate and store away carbon dioxide is immense when compared to terrestrial forests. This is a result of their efficiency in trapping suspended matter and is what is being referred to as Blue Carbon. The destruction of these systems is a double-edged blade, in that it not only reduces the storage of carbon dioxide, but it also triggers the release of more carbon dioxide, which is bad news for corals. Thus, it goes without saying that the conservation of these systems is critical.
With such a damaging process as coral bleaching, it would be unwise to simply rest on ones laurels. Thus the active enhancement of these systems should be implemented so that they can actively remove this gas from the atmosphere and help to slow the effects of climate change, and its devastating effect on reefs.
Projects such as ‘The Blue Carbon Initiative’ and ‘The Ocean Foundation’ work to keep and restore these environments, helping to solve this climate change issue and to promote healthier marine ecosystems. This bioengineering technique could be the solution that the world has been looking for, and critically, a solution that seems to offer only benefits.
The support of large organisations and governments could grow these projects, and with the potential that these systems hold, we could see the recovery of one of the most beautiful sights available, and one of the Earth’s natural wonders.
Mcleod et al., “A blueprint for blue carbon: toward an improved understanding of the role of vegetated coastal habitats in sequestering CO2.” (June 2011, Front Ecol Environ)
The Ocean Foundation (https://oceanfdn.org)
The Blue Carbon Initiative (http://thebluecarboninitiative.org)