by Alexandre Baude
There is an unprecedented grand crisis happening right now that could have devastating effects on our coral reefs: the Major Coral Bleach Crisis. Unfortunately, such news only appears for a few minutes in the headlines before switching to Selena Gomez’s Lupus diagnosis, or Donald Trump’s new poll numbers. But what is it? Why should anyone care?
The primary reason a person should worry about this event is that it will wipe out an estimated 20 percent of our coral reefs, according to NOAA coral reef coordinator Mark Eakin. This has enormous implications when discussing the complex ecosystems that thrive in them. Losing 20 percent of the coral reefs isn’t simply a loss of pretty corals, but of the hundreds and thousands of organisms that live within.
Although coral reefs only take up one tenth of one percent of the Ocean’s floor, a staggering 25 percent of the world’s fish species live within them. Countries use these hotspots of fish to farm food for millions of people. They are a crucial part to our world.
Therefore, the idea that the world would sustain a record number of coral reef damage should be on everyone’s mind. But how exactly is it happening?
When fragile coral reefs come into contact with warm ocean waters it often dies and turns white— thus the term “bleaching.” When bleached, it cannot provide the environment for the organisms who used to live within them a sustainable living situation, often leaving them dead as well.
The warmer than average waters are attributed to two events. One being man-made global warming, which has been steadily rising average ocean temperatures globally. The second event is the current El Niño hitting our Western coast. An El Niño is a current of water that has travelled back up the equator instead of hitting the Eastern coasts of Asia and breaking towards the North and South. This water is incredibly warm, which while providing exceptional beach days, does destroy coral reefs.
Yet, news anchors and journalists seemed more concerned to cover the good beach days over the environmental crisis as frontline news. Of course, there are a few articles spread here and there online, or on page seven or eight in the newspaper, but it has yet to be considered a “really big deal.”
Were the reefs to suffer continuous major damage in regions such as Hawaii, then not only would the organisms die, damaging the ecosystem almost irreparably, but from an economic standpoint, there would be a great loss to tourism. Tourism in places like Hawaii affects local buying and selling of goods heavily. Without it, many small businesses could also disappear.
It seems that for any grand environmental disaster there needs to be some sort of economic backlash in order for people to consider it a big deal. While coral reef destruction may not be as economically impactful as rising sea levels, which could wipe out entire cities, it is still a large and impactful even that cannot be ignored or dismissed.
Climate Change is steadily growing in power. If people don’t become aware of its devastating effects now while there is still a sliver of hope to change things around, then by the time they do realize it, it will be too late. It is up to media centers to convey the importance of this message in such a way that everyone gets the message and takes action. Until then, we can only watch as our coral reefs slowly deteriorate and erode away.
It may be worth it to go check them out now while you still can.