Coral Reefs are a tell tale sign for climate change

Coral Reefs are at the forefront of climate change and at least two of the three main impacts you will have noticed: coral bleaching and storm damage, both of which derive from increased sea temperatures. The third major change to coral reefs however is a little less obvious, and that is the acidification of the ocean. Acidification happens when the sea absorbs increasing levels of CO2 from the atmosphere. At its most simple, the more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more the sea absorbs and the current levels are 50 times higher than normal (Cadeira, 2006). The result? Less carbonate is available for biological systems such as coral reefs, which will weaken the reef system. Weak reefs mean less resiliency to pollution, storm damage, disease, a shift in biodiversity (an abundance of parrot fish for example who love to chomp on the reefs) and damage by humans.

Climate change has extremely high awareness levels but incredibly low response rate – people know what it is but feel they do not have the capacity to change it themselves (Tomkinson 2005). Knowledge is often the key to change and climate change action gets caught up in a myriad of scientific debate, which muddies the waters of understanding for normal people. However, reefs are a little more straightforward when it comes to the impacts of climate change, as they are generally visible. Being able to see real change helps give it a very real context.

The climate change and coral reef stress research, which is being conducted by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute in association with The RCCL Ocean Fund, Guy Harvey’s Ocean Foundation and the Image Group Ltd, has been set up to investigate climate change and the effects on our ocean to help provide solid information regarding our reefs. There are several different elements to the research which include coral reef growth monitoring, water chemistry monitoring and the Coral Reefs Early Warning System, which is a NOAA supported venture,  which monitors air and sea temperature, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, photosynthetically available radiation, ultraviolet radiation and salinity.

Clear results should help provide the emphasis for a change in opinion towards protecting our environment and support important legislation such as local climate change policy. Why are reefs important to us and why is this kind of work important? Well, this quote sums it up quite nicely:

Without coral reefs not only do we lose a precious resource but it is part of the identity of the Cayman Islands. 


Kate Pellow, What’s Hot – Cayman’s Local Guide, 4 January 2012. Article.

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