• Monitoring for the Coral Crisis


Monitoring for the Coral Crisis

Feb 10 2023

Potentially one of the most worrying aspects of the climate crisis, coral reefs across the world are on the brink of extinction. excuse me but can you write me 60 or so word about how important coral is to the marine ecosystem 

Coral reefs play a critical role in the marine ecosystem as they provide habitat for a diverse range of species, protect coastlines from storms and erosion, and support commercial and recreational fisheries. Coral reefs also play a role in the Earth's carbon cycle and help regulate the ocean's chemistry through a process called calcification. Corals are living organisms that extract calcium and carbonate ions from seawater to build their skeletons. This process helps maintain a delicate balance in the ocean's chemistry by removing excess carbon dioxide and helping to regulate the ocean's pH levels.  

However, coral reefs are highly vulnerable to environmental changes and human activities, such as climate change, overfishing, and pollution, which can cause coral bleaching and death. The loss of coral reefs can have significant impacts on the marine ecosystem and the human communities that depend on them, making it essential to conserve and protect these valuable ecosystems. 

Acid Reign 

Ocean acidification is a result of the absorption of excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere into the ocean. When CO2 dissolves in seawater, it reacts with water molecules to form carbonic acid, which can lower the pH of seawater. Over time, this can lead to a decrease in the ocean's pH, a measure of its acidity. This process is known as ocean acidification. 

The ocean's pH has already dropped by 0.1 units since the pre-industrial era, and it is projected to drop by a further 0.3 to 0.4 units by the end of the century. This may not sound like much, but even small changes in pH can have significant impacts on the ocean and its inhabitants. For example, lower pH levels can affect the ability of marine organisms to form and maintain their skeletons and shells, which are made of calcium carbonate. 

Coral reefs, which are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth, are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Corals build their skeletons from calcium carbonate, and as the ocean's pH drops, it becomes harder for them to extract this mineral from the water. This can lead to reduced growth and decreased resistance to disease, making corals more susceptible to disease and death. 

Bleach Bombed 

Coral bleaching is another challenge facing coral reefs. This process occurs when coral polyps expel the algae that live inside their tissues, leaving the coral's skeleton exposed. The algae provide the coral with food and give it its characteristic color, so without them, the coral appears to be bleached. 

Bleaching can occur as a result of a number of factors, including changes in water temperature, light, and salinity. However, the most common cause is a rapid and sustained increase in water temperature, which can be caused by climate change or local factors such as a heatwave. When water temperatures rise, corals become stressed, and in some cases, they respond by expelling their algae. If the stress is not too severe, the coral can recover, but if the bleaching is severe or long-lasting, the coral may die. 

Ocean acidification and coral bleaching have serious implications for the health of the ocean and the creatures that live in it. Coral reefs are important habitats for many species of fish, invertebrates, and other marine organisms, and they play a crucial role in the ocean's food chain. They are also important tourist attractions, providing jobs and income to many coastal communities around the world.  


Then, there’s the agricultural run-off. Agricultural run-off occurs when excess nutrients from fertilizers, animal waste, and other agricultural activities flow into the ocean, causing an overgrowth of phytoplankton and other microorganisms. This can lead to eutrophication, which is the process of an aquatic ecosystem becoming enriched with nutrients, resulting in excessive growth of plants and algae. 

Eutrophication can have serious impacts on the ocean and its inhabitants. The increased growth of phytoplankton and other organisms can deplete the water of oxygen, leading to the formation of dead zones where few marine organisms can survive. This can also cause a decline in biodiversity and a reduction in the productivity of the ocean. 

Furthermore, agricultural run-off can carry pollutants and chemicals into the ocean, which can harm marine life and affect the overall health of the ecosystem. This can also have negative impacts on human health, as contaminated seafood and shellfish can be harmful to consume. 

It is important to address the problem of agricultural run-off and eutrophication in order to maintain the health of the ocean and its ecosystems. This can be done through a combination of measures, including reducing the use of fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals, improving the management of agricultural waste, and increasing the efficiency of irrigation systems. 

Fresh Influx 

Another important aspect of the changing ocean environment is the increased amount of freshwater entering the ocean. This can have a significant impact on the ocean's salinity, which is the measure of the amount of salt in seawater. 

The increased amount of freshwater entering the ocean can come from various sources, including melting glaciers, increased precipitation, and the run-off of freshwater from rivers and streams. This increased amount of freshwater can dilute the ocean's salinity, which can have a number of effects on the ocean and its inhabitants. 

One of the most significant impacts of changes in the ocean's salinity is on coral reefs. Coral reefs are highly sensitive to changes in salinity, as they evolved in stable and specific salinity conditions. A change in salinity can stress coral reefs, making them more susceptible to disease and death. This can in turn lead to a decline in the health and productivity of the entire coral reef ecosystem. 

It is important to monitor changes in the ocean's salinity and understand the impacts of increased freshwater input on the ocean and its inhabitants. This will help us to better understand the complex interplay between different factors in the ocean environment and to take appropriate steps to protect the health of the ocean and its ecosystems. 

In all of these cases, marine monitoring will play an important role in helpful modelling and management of marine ecosystems – and will only increase in importance as we navigate our way through the climate crisis. 

Digital Edition

IET 33.5 Sept/Oct 2023

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