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Impact of Climate Change on the Coral Reef

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1770 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Coral Reefs

Ocean acidification is a biological problem that involves the absorption of carbon dioxide by the ocean. Ever since the industrial revolution, it has been researched and supported that ⅓ of carbon dioxide produced by human activity is absorbed by the ocean(Feely RA, Sabine CL, Lee K, Berelson W, Kleypas J, et al. 2004). The absorption of carbon dioxide can be very damaging to aquatic ecosystems because it causes the pH of the ocean to decrease, raising the acidity levels (Albright, Rebecca; Caldeira, Lilian; Hosfelt, Jessica; Kwiatkowski, Lester; Maclaren, Jana K; et al.) Most organisms in the ocean need a specific pH in order to be able to thrive and survive but when this is disrupted and decreased,the rate at which calcium carbonate is produced declines which in turn affects the habitat of many aquatic organisms that inhabit coral reefs. Declines in the production of calcium carbonate affects coral reefs because coral reefs produce calcium carbonate in order to build its structure. Coral reefs provide many marine animals habitat and they also maintain biodiversity in many underwater ecosystems. In fact, coral reefs can support 650 coral and 1000 species in one location!(Connolly et al. 2003; Bellwood et al. 2005). Some organisms that inhabit the coral reefs include sponges, black tip reef sharks, starfish, anemones and eels. Increasing temperatures over the past decades along with coral bleaching, overfishing, pollution and runoff of chemicals from agricultural lands also plays roles in determining health of coral reefs.

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Coral bleaching is a process in which the rising ocean temperature levels affects the symbiosis relationship between the coral and micro algae. When the sea surface temperature increases to a level in which the algae is not accustomed to, the photosynthetic system of the algae starts to produce reactive oxygen molecules such as hydrogen peroxide (Marshall, Schuttenberg 2007). This hydrogen peroxide may leak into coral cells, which is why corals “cast out” the algae, leading to the white appearance of the corals or known as coral bleaching. Without the algae, coral reefs lack the oxygen and nutrients needed for survival. The increasing acidity of the ocean as well as coral bleaching affect marine life and is vital to human society and its industries. This proposal will focus on the effect of both these factors on the great barrier reef.

Calcium carbonate minerals play major roles in the development and growth of skeletons and shells of many aquatic calcifying organisms such as crabs, oysters, and corals. When the pH changes, the growth and development of the calcium carbonate is slowed down and under severe conditions, it can deteriorate the calcium carbonate. In order for coral reefs to survive, the rate of the production of calcium carbonate must be greater than deterioration to allow for growth and to outway the damage exerted on coral reefs (Andersson, A. J., & Gledhill, D. 2013)

These magnificent architectures in the ocean do not only benefit aquatic animals, they also benefit humans because they provide ecosystem services that are vital to human societies and industries such as fisheries, coastal protection, building material, tourism as well as new biochemical compounds used in the development of new drugs (F. Moberg, C. Folke, Ecol. Econ. 29, 215 (1999)).

The largest coral reef in the world is called the “ Great Barrier Reef” and it is located in Australia, off the coast of Queensland. Ocean acidification and coral bleaching should be prioritized over others because approximately half of the great barrier reef has experienced irreversible coral bleaching, meaning that the corals are not able to recover from the increase of sea surface temperatures that extended over long periods of time. On the other hand, if the corals experience the increase in sea surface temperatures for only a short period of time, corals are able to recover once temperatures return back to normal (national geographic). The outcomes of ocean acidification and coral bleaching in the great barrier reef contributes to shifts in community of aquatic organisms, which favor areas containing high amounts of symbiosis relationships between algae and corals.

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The consequences of the continual death and decline in coral reefs not only affect aquatic ecosystems, they also play critical roles in human society. Without coral reefs there would be a lack of coastal protection from strong waves. Strong and dangerous waves from storms or tsunamis are usually regulated by coral reefs, in fact that is why the coral reefs in Australia are called “The great barrier reef” because it acts as a barrier for strong waves which protect the shorelines. Without the coral reefs acting as a barrier, the nearby area of the shorelines may flood during storm season and also negatively impact tourism due to these dangerous conditions. The effect of ocean acidification and coral bleaching on the great barrier reef is highly significant because the death of coral reefs will lead to a lack of biodiversity and eventually lead to extinction of certain aquatic animals that rely heavily on calcifying organisms such as corals. Some of which, we use a source of protein and other nutrients. Tourism is also negatively impacted by the loss of color of the coral reefs due to coral bleaching. Industries such as fisheries will see a decline in the amount of fish caught, therefore leading to a loss of annual income. The lack of seafood caught will lead to an increase in price of these products. Resources obtained from the coral reefs used for developing new medicine will decline and lead to the reliance of other resources; other resources that may or may not have the same characteristics obtained from the coral reefs. Lastly, coral reefs provide millions of individuals with employment in developed and underdeveloped countries in tropical coastal regions.

Climate change plays a major role in affecting coral reefs. The trend in the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased drastically over the past decades to the extent that has never been done or known before in the past 800, 000 years (16.  Root TL, Price JT, Hall KR, Schneider SH, Rosenzweig C, Pounds A. 2003. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421: 57–60 17.  Intergov. Panel Climate Change (IPCC). 2014. In Summary for policymakers. In Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, ed. IPCC, p. 3118. Geneva, Switz., IPCC, therefore finding more sustainable ways of obtaining energy is crucial to slow down the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and help prevent ocean acidification and coral bleaching as well as to improve aquatic life. Investing in


  • Connolly S.R, Bellwood D.R, Hughes T.P. Geographic ranges and species richness gradients: a re-evaluation of coral reef biogeography. Ecology. 2003;84:2178–2190.
  • Marshall, P., Schuttenberg, H., West, J.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, IUCN–The World Conservation Union, & United States. (2006). A reef manager’s guide to coral bleaching. (). Townsville, Australia;Washington, D.C.;: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
  • Rowan, R. (2004). Coral bleaching: Thermal adaptation in reef coral symbionts. Nature, 430(7001), 742. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/apps/doc/A186294004/CPI?u=rpu_main&sid=CPI&xid=a987c499
  • Andersson, A. J., & Gledhill, D. (2013). Ocean acidification and coral reefs: Effects on breakdown, dissolution, and net ecosystem calcification. Annual Review of Marine Science, 5(1), 321-348. doi:10.1146/annurev-marine-121211-172241
  • Moberg, F., & Folke, C. (1999).Ecological goods and services of coral reef ecosystems.Ecological Economics, 29(2), 215-233. doi:10.1016/S0921-8009(99)00009-9
  • Feely RA, Sabine CL, Lee K, Berelson W, Kleypas J, et al. 2004. Impact of anthropogenic CO2 on the CaCO3 system in the oceans. Science 305(5682):362–66).


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