Environmental Effects Of Coral Bleaching

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Coral reefs are diverse and extensive underwater ecosystems that provide habitats for around one quarter of the oceans species, an astoundingly high number considering they make up less than two percent of the ocean floor. These reefs are held together by calcium carbonate, and the corals themselves are living creatures with protective skeletons. However, these so called “rainforests of the sea” are in danger. Coral bleaching, an event in which a general increase in water temperatures leads to a reduction in the microscopic algae acting as a basis for the corals diet, is leading to the fragmentation of once vast and stable coral reef systems. Reef bleaching mainly occurs due to increases in carbon dioxide levels, which facilitate rising water temperatures and dangerous amounts of ocean acidification, otherwise known as pH. As copious amounts of carbon dioxide are absorbed by the ocean, CO2 reacts with the water to form carbonic acid, the substance which is having an immensely adverse effect on coral reef systems. Severe or prolonged events of reef bleaching have the capability to kill off entire coral colonies, leaving the corals and the species that inhabit them vulnerable to other threats without much chance of survival or resilience. The carbonic acid released into the water decimates a coral's ability to build a calcium carbonate skeleton, and worsening acidification breaks down previously existing skeletons, which aided in structurally supporting the reef. Above all else, growing carbon dioxide levels facilitate higher amounts of carbonic acid in ocean waters and, in turn, leads to reef bleaching.
Steps must be taken to reverse or, at the very least, lessen the effects carbonic acid has on coral reef systems, as it is negatively impacting corals, sea creatures they provide shelter to, and the environment in general. The destruction of coral colonies due to changes in ocean acidification is taking both an ecological and socio-economic toll. Bleached corals are exponentially more likely to face a reduction in growth rates and reproductive capacity, as well as a higher susceptibility to disease and increased mortality rates. Changes in the composition of coral communities occur due to the death of
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