Global warming and reef loss.
When water reaches a certain temperature, its coral releases the algae that gives it its coloring in a stress response. So once these coral turn completely white, it’s a sign that they are vulnerable and dying. Reefs around the world are suffering from such climate-related coral-bleaching events, with the most notable being the Great Barrier Reef. Experts have concluded that 95 percent of areas surveyed in the reef have now been bleached. Just last month, scientists concluded that it has reached a point of no return.
You can make a difference by tweaking your routine (and swapping out your sunscreen).
So what can we do to make sure that widespread coral bleaching stops now? Earlier this summer, environmental research scientist Craig A. Downs told us that chemicals in our sunscreens play a role in the problem. “There are several chemicals that are a known threat to coral reefs where they are in high enough concentrations. The UV chemicals that pose a threat are oxybenzone and octinoxate but also nanotized zino oxide and titanium dioxide,” he says. If you’re going to be swimming in reef waters, remove your sunscreen or go with one that doesn’t list these ingredients.
Gabby Ahmadia, the senior marine scientist at the World Wildlife Foundation, reminds us that even if you’re not directly interacting with coral reefs, your actions likely still affect these vitally important ecosystems. “If coral reefs are to survive into the next century, we must all act on their behalf,” she explains. “We all have the power to help give reefs a fighting chance by making climate-smart decisions and standing up for the planet. You can walk, bike, or use mass transit instead of driving, switch to clean, renewable energy in your home, and urge your elected officials to support climate action.”
David Gruber, a marine biologist and National Geographic emerging explorer, says that his work designing undersea technology to help humans relate to deep-sea life (think: shark-eye cameras and robots that can interact with marine creatures without harming them) has shown him the urgency of climate action. “Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on our planet, but they are also one of the most fragile and delicate systems. I view them as the canary in the coal mine, and as they decline dramatically, other ecosystems will soon follow,” he says. “Start by educating oneself: Watch documentaries, listen to talks, and participate in citizen science project like Reef Watch, MPA Watch, and Earthwatch.”