Coral Bleaching

By Sherry Zhang

Home to a diversity of unique sea creatures, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is known as the world’s largest coral reef system and supports one of Earth’s most complex ecosystems. Unfortunately, because of coral bleaching, which began in January 1998, the reef’s health continues to worsen year after year. 

Just as it sounds, coral bleaching is the whitening of corals, resulting from a loss of symbiotic algae. Ultimately, coral bleaching results from climate change, which increases the ocean temperature, leading to the expulsion of the symbiotic algae living inside coral tissue. However, pollution, the overexposure of sunlight, and extremely low tides may also cause coral bleaching. 

Although many parts of the Great Barrier Reef remain healthy, coral bleaching continues to plague the spacious reef. According to National Geographic, “Thirty percent of the coral perished in 2016, another 20 percent in 2017.” Year after year, more coral die, which implicitly threatens humans. Diverse and valuable, the massive Australian coral ecosystem provides a source of food, shelter, and nursing grounds for economically important fish species, which serve as a source of protein for the human population. In his The New York Times article, journalist Damien Cave writes, “Hundreds of millions of people get their protein primarily from reef fish like the coral trout, which is already being affected by the bleaching events… Many scientists worry that the loss of that food supply could become a humanitarian crisis.” In other words, coral bleaching could threaten the human food supply, potentially leaving many people to starve and creating a humanitarian crisis.

Moreover, not only can coral bleaching affect the human food supply, but also leave corals vulnerable to illness, prevent coral reproduction, and affect species that are heavily dependent on the coral reef. Eventually, coral bleaching can lead to the extinction of life in the Great Barrier Reef. Many inhabitants of the reef are already losing their habitats and it is a matter of time until the entire reef collapses.

Detrimental, coral bleaching threatens one of the planet’s most valuable ecosystems and needs to be contained.