Climate Change and Coral Reefs
Final Report , UP SURP Oct. 2009
Eli Siwa & Gabriel Lopez
There have been so many pictures on magazines and online blogs that show the world’s exotic and colorful coral reefs. It may have been the favorite subject of photo enthusiasts and divers. But these coral reefs are not just there for aesthetic pleasures or to showcase the beauty of aquatic life. They are, in fact, very important to both people and wildlife.
Called rainforests of the sea, these coral reefs are home to a quarter of all marine species, provide habitat and breeding ground for commercially important species, provide natural buffers to the coastlines from erosions, and contain the highest biodiversity of any marine ecosystem.
These coral reefs are what we may call as “canaries in a coal mine”—being early indicators of impact of climate change. Coral reefs are highly sensitive in water temperature, clarity, acidity, early indicators of impacts of climate change and human activities. They are vulnerable to coastal development, sediment run-off, water pollution, many fishing practices. In fact, significant increase in number of massive bleaching episodes since 1970s mean there exists increasingly warmer global temperatures.
These eco-systems of environmental and human value protect shores from the impact of waves and from storms, provide a lot of benefits to humans in the form of food and medicine, and provide economic benefits to local communities from tourism.
The term ‘coral reef’ applies to a diversity of structures that grow in a wide range of habitats from clean oceanic waters to areas close to continents, where the influence of land runoff can be considerable. The eventual shape and form of the reefs will depend on this ambient environment and the underlying base structure. Reefs predominantly grow over previous reefs, which were killed off during massive sea Ievel falls during ice ages. The stony corals and calcareous algae gradually build up the calcium carbonate framework until the reef reaches the sea surface, where atmospheric exposure limits further upward growth. Barrier reefs develop along the edge of continental shelves that are sufficiently remote from sediment input from the land to encourage vigorous coral growth. Usually behind these reefs are relatively deep water ways, referred to as lagoons. Good examples are the Great Barrier Reef and the barrier reefs of Belize and New Caledonia. These barrier reefs protect the adjacent shorelines from the impact of oceanic waves.
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