Coral Reefs are extremely productive ecosystems.

They support gigantic areas of biodiversity while also adding value to humans in a number of ways.

However, global warming has become a main cause of bleached coral reefs. In other words, the warming of the atmosphere has gradually begun to warm the oceans, causing these magnificent ecosystems to lose its ability to sustain life.

While there are many different reasons for coral bleaching, the most recent and most severe has been global warming.

In this article, we’ll outline exactly what coral reefs are, what they provide, what coral reef bleaching is …and why we should care.

What Are Coral Reefs and Why are They Important?

As we previously mentioned, coral reefs are incredible ecosystems. The biggest in the world, The Great Barrier Reef, is composed of 2,900 individual reef that stretches over 2,600 meters and can be seen from space.

These reefs are teeming with life. This life not only is what makes this planet so special but provides a number of goods and services to humans that adds up to roughly $30 billion each year.

These benefits include:

1. Fisheries

These reefs are vital to our global fisheries. They create nurseries for ¼ of the ocean’s fish and therefore provide income for local communities and international fishing companies.

What’s your favorite sushi restaurant? Chances are, you can thank coral reefs for those tasty dishes.

Approximately 1 billion people depend on coral reefs for income and food from the practice of fishing.

If taken care of and managed properly, coral reefs can produce 15 tones of fish and seafood per kilometer per year.

2. Tourism

Tourism generates approximately $3 billion dollars per year in the US while Australia’s Great Barrier Reef brings in over $1 billion per year.

These significant revenues not only provide financial benefits but educational tourism benefits. By visiting coral reefs with family, you’ll be able to learn more about the incredible ecosystems and life-providers they are.

Tourism also benefits surrounding communities make money to survive through the year.

3. Coastal Protection

Coral reefs play a vital role in breaking the intensity of waves during storms, typhoons, hurricanes and sometimes tsunamis.

Coral reefs help prevent soil erosion, loss of property, flooding and in doing so, save billions of dollars every year in reconstruction and insurance costs.

4. Medical Advances

Coral reef organisms have already begun to provide treatments for diseases such as HIV and cancer. By taking the time to care for these incredible ecosystems, along with the tropical forests, we may be able to discover the answers to medical issues.

5. Intrinsic Value

For indigenous and cultural communities, coral reeds are sewn into their traditions. For those who have spent their lives submersed in this underwater wonderworld, along with avid snorkelers, a life without coral reefs would be a darker place to live.

What is Coral Bleaching?

Coral bleaching happens when the relationship between corals and marine algae within the coral’s tissue which gives them their color, begin to break down. Without these algae, called zooxanthellae which provide 90% of the energy that coral requires to thrive, the coral turns transparent and skeleton-like.

Once bleached, corals starve. Some corals are able to feed themselves, however, most suffer without the help of their personal algae, zooxanthellae.

Bleached corals die off if the stress continues, and may take decades to recover, even if given the chance.

What Causes Coral Bleaching

The leading cause of bleached coral is heat stress caused by high water temperatures. Warmer water temperature forces the corals to expel their precious zooxanthellae. Once the corals turn white, although they’re not dead, they are under more stress and are therefore subject to mortality.

Once these temperatures continue for a length of time, corals begin to due. Other stressors include low salinity, poor water quality or chemical run-off.

What Can We Do?

Now that you’ve learned a good chunk about what makes coral reefs so special and vital to our planet, the next logical question would be how do we save them?

Climate change is a wide-reaching issue. With these issues come potential heartbreak, however, it also provides a lot of opportunity for change.

By voting for leaders who uphold the Paris Agreement and significant strides towards a cleaner atmosphere and more vibrant planet, you’ll be giving these incredible living systems the ability to rebuild themselves someday.

While many coral reefs are past the point of recovery, there are still many reefs that have a chance of survival.

By being aware of these systems, contributing to the science that will protect them and the communities that know them, we’ll be able to reconstruct a more vibrant and colorful world… so beautiful you can see it from space.