Coral Under Siege: Action You Can Take As Reefs Bleach

The summer of 2024 will see the worst coral bleaching event in recorded history. Critical to marine biodiversity and coastal protection, reefs are threatened by coral bleaching driven by warmer waters due to climate change and other human activities. 

“Bleaching” refers to the loss of color in coral. The colorful half of the biological partnership that gives coral its diverse color, a type of algae known as zooxanthellae, is killed by warming water temperatures. Zooxanthellae process food for the coral; when lost, most corals die off. When coral expels zooxanthellae in response to higher temperatures, the reef-building process ends, and the populations of many other species dependent on the reefs collapse.

It’s too late to prevent this year’s coral disaster. As responsible global citizens, we can take meaningful actions to reduce the temperature of the oceans over them and help preserve these vital ecosystems. 

Actions to Reduce Coral Bleaching

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Climate change is the primary driver of coral bleaching. By reducing our carbon footprint, we can help mitigate its impact. Simple daily choices like carpooling, using public transportation, and reducing energy consumption at home and work can make a significant difference. Choosing energy-efficient appliances and minimizing heating and air conditioning can also contribute to lower carbon emissions​. Ocean temperatures will take decades, if not centuries, to fall, as 91 percent of the heat added to the planet’s ecosystems is stored in the sea.

Practice Responsible Tourism: When visiting coral reefs or just spending time at the beach, practice responsible tourism. Choose reef-friendly sunscreens that do not contain harmful chemicals, avoid physical contact with reefs while diving or snorkeling, and do not remove any coral from the reefs​​.

Support Sustainable Fisheries: Overfishing and harmful fishing practices damage coral ecosystems. Opting for sustainable seafood can encourage better practices and help maintain balanced marine environments​​.

Waste Management: What you do at home makes a difference, too. Proper waste disposal and reducing plastic use are essential to protecting oceans from pollution, which significantly impacts coral reefs. Participating in beach clean-ups and recycling can prevent waste from reaching the sea​.

Think Water Quality In The Backyard: Using fewer fertilizers and pesticides can reduce runoff that harms coral reefs. Installing rain barrels and creating rain gardens can also help manage stormwater and reduce pollutants entering water systems​​.

Education and Advocacy: Teaching yourself and others about the importance of coral reefs and their threats can lead to more informed decisions at the community and policy levels. Advocacy for environmental policies that protect coral reefs is also crucial​.

Support Coral Research and Conservation Programs

Contributing to organizations that conduct coral research and engage in conservation activities can help fund the science needed to understand and combat coral bleaching. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Watch program is a great place to start exploring the global coral crisis.​ 

An emerging area of hope is coral restoration, which includes programs that cultivate coral reefs and, in some cases, work to modify corals and zooxanthellae to survive rising water temperatures genetically. Cora Vita, a social benefit company, has launched a restoration project in The BahamasListen to an interview with Coral Vita cofounder Sam Tiecher to learn more.

By incorporating these actions into our daily lives, we can each contribute to coral reefs’ health and longevity, helping them continue to thrive for future generations. Each small step adds up to a significant impact in the fight against coral bleaching and the preservation of marine biodiversity.


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