Ocean Issues: The Coral Question

Humans can create a huge impact on the ocean, both positively and negatively. We also rely on the ocean in many ways. According to the National Ocean Service, the part of the U.S. economy reliant on the ocean generates $282 billion annually and provides jobs for almost 3 million people. 76% of U.S. trade is overseas. The ocean also helps regulate climate by transferring heat between the equator and the poles. In addition to this, the ocean provides food and medicine.

Today, many issues face the ocean. Some of the most prominent ones are over fishing, climate change, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels. Even though only some countries are seeing their effects directly, the whole world is touched in some way. Some of these issues only affect the nonliving parts of the ocean while others affect everything in it, living and nonliving. Humans have the power to influence these problems and change what’s happening, for better or for worse.

One specific issue is coral bleaching. Due to increases in water temperature, changes in water chemistry, and various other causes, coral reefs around the world have been rapidly bleaching and dying. Coral depend on microscopic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside of its polyps. This algae is the coral’s primary food source and is what gives it its vibrant colors. When the algae is stressed by these bleaching factors, it leaves the coral.

Coral reefs occupy less than one percent of the ocean, yet help support nearly twenty-five percent of all marine life. Because all parts of the ecosystem are connected, much more than just coral is being damaged by the mass bleachings. Humans are also affected by the state of our reefs because coral supports fishing and tourism industries, both of which help provide thousands of jobs. Today, there are many ongoing projects collecting data, researching, and spreading awareness about what’s happening.

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