Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coral Reef Just Another Indicator of Detrimental Human Activities

The broad and extensive effects that humanity has had on the global environment is overwhelming, and whether it is melting ice sheets or the disintegration of coral reefs, we are responsible for much of these drastic and lasting environmental changes that loom over our future. For example, Reefs at Risk Revisited reports that nearly one third of the coral reefs in existence are at risk due to human activities such as over-fishing and acidification, and climate change. By 2050, it is estimated that 95% of coral reefs will experience a detrimental phenomenon known as bleaching . These reports are frightening to say the least, and while they beg for some solution, it is hard to imagine containing human-related environmental problems, especially with the human population estimated to grow by a matter of billions within the next fifty years. It will require an immense, all-encompassing effort, spanning across all manners of science and technology to solve these problems that face our planet, but at the moment it is troubling to think of some of the dangers we stand to face in coming years.

Posted by Luke Brewer


  1. Luke, I too recognize the huge importance of Earth's coral reefs. They are a staple in the marine ecosystems where they are present, and they hold many mysteries, including the cures for many diseases. Destroying coral reefs is akin to destroying rain forests, as it will have severely dire effects on the ecosystems where they are present. Killing coral reefs will indeed have drastic consequences, such as causing many populations of marine invertebrates to die off. This is because coral reefs produce oxygen, and even fish need it. These reefs also provide shelter for many marine invertebrates. Although fishing acts and laws are in place in many areas, lots of terrible fishing practices are wreaking havoc on many of these coral reefs. The world's governments must begin to crack down harder on lawbreaking fishermen, or even we humans will be in trouble in the near future. After all, fish are a huge food source for people.

    Posted by Derek Melzar

  2. Luke, do you know of any methods being employed that can slow or stop this disintegration of the coral reefs? If these ecosystems are doomed to disappear, the world will also lose many species of fish, turtles, algae, and plant-life that is not seen anywhere else on earth. Reefs have existed for hundreds of millions of years. It's unbelievable that it could take less than one hundred years to almost completely wipe them out.

    Posted by Kevin McLaughlin

  3. Losing the coral reefs would have a very negative impact on our environment. It could cause a severe upset in ocean's ecosystems. Do we know how advanced the process of bleaching is underway? It's obnoxious how much our actions have a negative effect on the environment, especially because some people like to take part of the coral reef home after a vacation! Even though this is against the law, once the act is done there is nothing that can reverse it. It is unfortunate that people purposefully harm the planet.

  4. The situation is unfortunate, though, like so many of the most important phenomena, it's become more and more a politically charged topic. Politics aside, the economics alone make the problem of pollution and global warming exponentially more difficult to tackle. While most of the European powers have signed the Kyoto Protocol or something equivalent, the major economic producers have refused, citing economic competitiveness. Meanwhile, up-and-coming countries have--like their larger counterparts setting the example--almost flagrant disregard for environmental policy.

    Hopefully we'll find some way out of it in the next few decades, though given the pace of environmental progress a positive prognosis seems doubtful.

    Posted by Alexander Simolaris

  5. Unfortunately, we are seeing the effects of detrimental human activities closer to home. The BP oil spill, “a mistake waiting to happen” in the Gulf of Mexico is leaving long-term effects on the environment. In particular, the coral reefs in the gulf are at risk of being eliminated due to the toxicity of the oil. By eliminating the coral reefs, this creates a cascading effect that can cause the endangerment of the organisms that use the reefs as their home. Like it is mention in your post, the spill has required an immense all encompassing effort to cleanup. Not too long ago there was a report on the news stating that scientists have been finding stillborn dolphins on gulf shores that were directly impacted by the oil spill. If this along with global warming is not a good indication that maybe it is time to find an alternative energy source, I don’t know what is.

    Posted by Nelson Milano

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone! For those who were wondering.. Corals depend on a protozoa called zooxanthellae that promote growth and calcification amongst coral population. They, in fact, are what provide coral reefs their broad array of colors, and without them present in the cells of the coral reef, the coral experiences bleaching. Any sort of significant environmental stress, including acidification, high temperatures, and harmful fishing practices (including cyanide fishing) can result in the death or expulsion of zooxanthallae from the coral reef cells. If conditions do not improve, and zooxanthallae do not return to the coral reef, it eventually results in death for the coral. What is so significant about these bleaching events is that the damaged caused often take months to reverse itself even with improved conditions, let alone the increasingly harsher environments caused by human activities. It is hard to imagine how humans will be able to curb a problem such as this, especially with an exponentially growing global population. However, I find this and other environmental issues to be inspiring in terms of pursuing a career that might be able to contribute to a solution.

    posted by Luke Brewer