Hi everyone! My name is Kelly and I am a Biologist. My area of interest is Marine Biology which is the study of marine organisms and their interactions with each other and the environment. Many people associate Marine Biology with whales and dolphins, and although I admit I do a fair bit of research into the abundance and distribution of cetaceans, Marine Biology is a much more varied and fascinating subject and requires not only knowledge of marine organisms themselves, but also a variety of Earth and environmental science topics.
My particular interest is the direct and indirect impact humans have on marine environments. An example of this is the impact climate change is currently having on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and other reefs around the world. You may have read in the news recently about the reef being affected by coral bleaching, which essentially involves the corals turning white. Now, you may wonder why this is a problem, aren’t the corals just simply changing colour? Unfortunately, the reality is the consequences of coral bleaching are much more severe than this. Microscopic algae give the corals their vast array of colours but also provide carbohydrates as a source of food to the corals during photosynthesis. Corals and algae live in a harmonious way and the corals depend on the algae to survive.
Mass bleaching events have occurred in the Great Barrier Reef in the past which is when large areas of coral experience bleaching. However, the percentage of corals experiencing bleaching has been increased exponentially, from approximately 42% in 1998 to 55% in 2016. Bleaching can be caused not only by warmer ocean temperatures, but also by pollutants in the ocean, rising carbon dioxide emissions contributing to ocean acidification and increased salinity. However, scientists believe climate change is the biggest contributor to coral bleaching as it is accelerating an increase in ocean temperatures in an unprecedented way.
Like most living organisms, corals are sensitive to temperature and have a narrow temperature range in which they can survive. If the optimum temperature of the corals is exceeded, this disrupts the relationship with the microscopic algae living in the corals. The algae ‘leave’ the corals and as the algae are responsible for their colour pigments, the corals turn white. If the coral cannot obtain other algae, their food source becomes depleted. If this continues for a period of time, the corals eventually die. You may wonder why this is important and what it means for the ocean… Well, even though coral reefs are estimated to occupy less than 1% of the entire ocean, they provide shelter to around 25% of marine species as well as protect coastlines, and provide a range of other benefits to the Earth’s organisms and are therefore vital for the oceans ecosystems.
You may not be able to come up with a perfect solution to combat this issue however, there are simple, everyday things that you can do which collectively make a real difference to the ocean and the environment such as:
1. Use Public transport, walk or cycle rather than use your car – this will help decrease your carbon footprint
2. Use reusable canvas bags to carry your shopping – they last longer and less plastic will end up in the ocean, you can also avoid the 5p charge!
3. Recycle as much as you can! Including plastics, cans, glass bottles and paper
4. Buy recyclable and reusable products – this will also help decrease your carbon footprint
Coral bleaching is just one of the ways the ocean is affected by climate change and human impact – stay tuned for more topics next month.
Please feel free to get in touch if you have any suggestions, queries or would like to learn more about a particular topic.
Thanks for reading this blog post!