What's Happening to Corals and Why you Should Care

We are witnessing the death of the single largest living organism on earth.” - Chasing Coral

Before moving to Fiji, coral reefs weren’t something that I thought about much. I had snorkeled through them while on family vacations in the Caribbean and admired their bright colours and colonies of tropical fish, but I knew little of their significance to our global ecosystem.

Now living in Fiji as the Program Director of Insight Global Education’s newest Semester in Development (SID) program, coral reefs and the current issues surrounding them are tough to ignore. The 332 islands that make up the archipelago of Fiji are home to 10,000 square kilometers of coral reef and 42% of the world’s coral species. Anytime you go to a beach (which is often when you live on a tropical island) you aren’t far from this stunning underwater world.

I recently spent the weekend at a beach on Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji where the SID program is based, with my colleague. She had lived in Fiji six years ago and wanted to revisit the beach she remembered for its turquoise waters, white sand, and vibrant coral reefs.

She was shocked and disappointed to find that the corals were now bleached of colour, free of fish, and lacking any signs of life. In just a few short years, the underwater ecosystem at this beach had changed entirely.

Troubled by this, I sat down with the SID Fiji program participants to watch Chasing Coral, an award-winning documentary on Netflix that exposes the serious issues coral reef systems are facing around the world. This documentary opened my eyes to the significance of coral reefs, the danger of coral degradation, and the reasons why we should all care about this issue.

Climate change is destroying coral reefs at an alarming rate. Why should you be worried? 

Why do we need coral reefs?

The importance of coral reefs goes far beyond their natural beauty and their attraction for snorkelers and scuba divers. Coral reefs are significant to the sustenance of both marine life and human life. Did you know the following facts about coral reefs?

  • They are home to millions of marine species and a quarter of the ocean’s fish population.
  • Coral reefs provide natural protection for coastlines against tropical storms, flooding, and coastal erosion.
  • Reefs are the source of essential nutrients for the wider marine food chain.
  • Through the fishing and tourism industries, reefs generate billions of dollars each year.
  • Over one billion people depend on coral reefs for food and/or income.
  • Organisms from coral reefs are used in treatments for cancer and HIV, amongst other diseases.
  • Coral reefs are integral to the culture and history of many coastal areas.


What's happening to corals

In the last fifty years, 30% of the world’s coral reefs were lost. Scientists project that by 2030, 90% will be dead. This signifies the loss of not only reefs, but billions of marine animals and human livelihoods.

One of the biggest threats to coral reefs is climate change. A single bleaching event, coral discolouration due to a change in environment, can cause the deterioration of corals that have existed for over 500 years. In 2016 alone, the Great Barrier Reef lost 20% of its corals.

While there have been cyclical periods of global warming that have occurred naturally throughout earth’s history, we are experiencing an unprecedented frequency from human-caused climate change. Only three bleaching events were recorded between 1876-1979; there have been more than 400 recorded since 2002.

Two other significant threats are over-fishing and pollution. Over 80% of the world’s shallow reefs are severely over-fished. In the Caribbean, almost 80% of coral reefs have been lost due to local over-fishing and pollution. These effects will continue to be exacerbated by climate change.

If we don’t seriously change our habits on national, regional, and individual levels, and fast, we will likely see the loss of coral reefs in our lifetime.

Photo Source: http://www.globalcoralbleaching.org/ 

What you can do about it

If you’re convinced that we need to take action to save the coral reefs, here are some changes you can make on an individual level:

  • Further educate yourself on this issue. Chasing Coral  is a great place to start.
  • Lower your carbon emissions. Some key ways to do so are to reduce your meat intake (red meat has a particularly bad carbon footprint), bike or use public transit instead of driving, offset your carbon footprint when you fly, become a mindful consumer, and reduce the amount of plastic that you use.
  • Encourage all levels of your government to take environmental conservation and the reduction of carbon emissions seriously.
  • Practice responsible tourism when you travel to coastal areas. Be aware of how local providers treat the environment.
  • If you consume fish, look for products with sustainable certifications.
  • Support existing initiatives trying to save the coral reefs. Check out 50 Reefs.

Learn about opportunities interning with local NGO's and studying climate change in Fiji with Insight Global Education through the Semester in Development. Or click below to apply!

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