Our actions have consequences, not just for us, but for the rest of the world. This is evident in the destruction caused by climate change. If this summer’s heat waves left you sweating and longing for a beach day, maybe it is time to think about the effect our habits are having on the ocean’s creatures, not to mention the rest of the planet.
Rising temperatures have extremely detrimental ramifications for marine life, especially coral reefs. These living coral polyps provide the basis for a complex ecosystem, home to a staggering 25 percent of the ocean’s species, and the warming of the ocean subjects this massive population to a dangerous transformation known as coral bleaching. In coral bleaching, pollution and rising temperatures trigger the coral to expel the colorful symbiotic algae that keep coral reefs alive. This very phenomenon is occurring in the Australian Great Barrier Reef, endangering the prolific lifeforms it houses and causing the government to label the status of the reef as “very poor”. Acidification from increased carbon buildup in the water is further atrophying the coral.
Now you may be wondering, what does that have to do with me? Sure, the reefs are beautiful, but is it really that bad if some ocean rocks die? Well, coral reefs and the diverse species within them not only have value in their status as living creatures, but also for us as humans. Fisheries found in coral reefs provide sustenance for over a billion people globally and contribute notably to the economy through billions of dollars of revenue. Money generated through tourism also adds to their economic significance. Interestingly, the chemicals released by organisms present in the coral reefs have proven useful in the development of new medicines. Furthermore, the reefs play an important role in the security of coastal civilizations as they diminish the destructive effects of storms and rough waters. Ironically, the incidence of storms has also been seen to increase due to climate change.
A common feeling when it comes to global issues such as climate change is helplessness. Many people are aware of the harm that disregard for the environment causes, but they do not know what they can do to stop it. It is easy to feel like the contribution one makes to the environment is insignificant and thus not worth it changing one’s ways. However, while one person’s actions will not save the Great Barrier Reef, the combined effort of each person can make a difference.
When visiting coral reefs, it is important to avoid contact so as not to harm any of their inhabitants. Additionally, be aware of the ingredients in your sunscreen whenever you go to the beach, as chemicals present in many sunscreens are toxic to ocean life. Look for sunscreens without oxybenzone or octinoxate listed in the ingredients.
And while most of us are not snorkeling on a daily basis, there are many simple endeavors one can undertake to protect the coral reefs. Make sure to properly dispose of your trash, especially when at the beach. If you live close to the coast, volunteer for a beach cleanup. Turn the lights off whenever you leave a room. Avoid using excessive amounts of fertilizer, which contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that ultimately make their way into the ocean and pollute the reefs. For short trips, try walking or biking instead of driving, since cars add to the rising carbon levels in the atmosphere and in the water. Use less water to reduce the amount of polluted runoff reaching the ocean; installing gutters and rain barrels is another way to reduce runoff. While some of these tips may seem obvious, it is time to take the initiative to do them. These are basic practices that will make the planet more inhabitable for all and might just be enough to save the coral reefs.
Veronica Eskander is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org