By KARTHIGA RATNAM and ARYSSA YOON
As children we were enamoured by coral reefs for their color, movement and tiny fish. Watching Finding Nemo all those years ago we learned of the Great Barrier Reef and clown fish. We thought it was a movie about a dad looking for his son. But it was much more than that. Today we know the vital role that coral reefs and life in the reefs play in maintaining the health of our oceans. According to the carbon brief, coral reefs are so essential to nature that coral reef destruction is considered to be 1 of 9 tipping points.
A tipping point is an incident we cannot reverse. One that will have a domino effect on the extinction emergency.
But what is it about coral reefs that make it such a crucial part of our ecosystem?
In simple terms coral reefs are these large skeletal-like structures that reside underwater and are extremely colorful. But they are also marine invertebrate animals and protect the coastlines from erosion and sea storms.
Nature is a category creator, coral reefs are her category queen! According to ecowatch whilst “coral reefs only cover 0.0025 percent they generate half of Earth’s oxygen and absorb nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide generated from burning fossil fuels.”
The impact these reefs have and the pivotal role they play in our ecosystem health is backed by scientific evidence.
But human behaviour over centuries have put these delicate underwater structures in severe duress. Think of the oceans of our planet like a massive sponge. They keep absorbing CO2. Given the unprecedented greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions, the oceans are forced to absorb more than they should. This is causing a chemical imbalance in the oceans.
The imbalance is directly affecting the health of our coral reefs. But that’s not the only reason.
Other human made reasons include:
- Careless tourism
- And overall climate change
This results in coral bleaching. When the corals are stressed out they tend to expel the algae in their body causing them to bleach. Warmer ocean waters is one of the main causes of coral bleaching. If conditions improve the coral is able to recover if not they die.
Why is coral reef destruction a tipping point?
But this still doesn’t seem like reason enough for it to be branded as a tipping point. Take a look at our cause and effect map. You can see the insidious and vicious nature of the problems and how they interlink.
But for the purposes of this article let’s take the worst case scenario. Let’s imagine the imaginable – all the coral reefs die. What happens then?
The biggest food source for marine life are the coral reefs. With the reefs dead marine life have lost their food source. This propels a cataclysmic extinction within the oceans. Marine life will slowly die off.
The human communities dependent on income from the oceans by way of fishing and tourism are affected. This will lead to poverty, malnutrition, hunger and further inequalities.
Here’s another compounding effect. The corals are a source of “raw materials” for life saving drugs. Specifically antiviral drugs Ara-A and AZT and the anticancer agent Ara-C. This leads to more people with terminal illnesses with no course of treatment. This could lead to a domino effect within the healthcare industry.
In addition, coral reefs protect coastal regions from storms. Climate change has already started to lead to more storms.This flood damage caused to cities could be disastrous to say the least. And our emergency systems will be stretched thin.
This is just the tip of the iceberg and why coral reef destruction is classified as a tipping point. If this happens, there is a chance that life on earth will be changed to a hitherto unknown scale.
We need to act now and save nature’s category queen – our coral reefs. If not, the future looks grim for humanity and all life on earth.
As Gladwell Malcom says in his book The Tipping Point:
“The Tipping Point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
We are fast approaching it.
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