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The Backbone of Our Ocean Is Going to Die

Alyssa Shen-Filerman, Contributing Writer

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Right now, we know our excessive use and disposal of plastics is an issue. We know about the dangers of fossil fuels and the hole in the ozone layer. We know the importance of trees and their role in sustaining our ecosystem. But what I did not know until recently, and what you may not know, is that coral reefs, a fundamental part of our oceans, are dying at a catastrophic rate.

Coral supports half a billion lives on this planet. It supports 25% of all biolife in our oceans. 4,000 different species of fish are cared for by coral, as well as turtles, sharks, sponges, seahorse and thousands of other sea creatures. It protects our own shores from storm damage in places where ocean surges threaten landbound life. With larger and more intense storms in our midsts, this attribute of coral is more important than ever. Coral is harvested for medical research and cures, including treatment for a small cell lung cancer and inflammatory diseases like asthma and arthritis. Coral is a caregiver and supporter of all kinds of life.

Under the sea, coral is facing its grim reaper: bleaching. Coral bleaching occurs due to global warming as the temperature of our oceans are increasing. The oceans absorb 93% of excess heat from the sun. Can you believe that if the seas were not taking in this extra heat, the average temperature of the Earth’s surface would be 122 degrees Fahrenheit?

As ocean temperatures rise, coral simply can no longer adapt. The nutrient’s mechanism living within coral can no longer function. As a result, coral turns a bright white, entering different phases that eventually lead to death. Over the last thirty years, 50% of all the coral in the world has died at the hand of coral bleaching.

I want you to understand that coral is crucial to the survival of our planet, and crucial to our survival. Coral supports our lives and livelihoods, and if we fail to protect it, we will see the consequences within our lifetime. At this rate, by 2050, 90% of all the world’s coral reefs will be dead. As a result, breeding grounds as well as feeding grounds in the ocean will fade away. The ocean’s ecosystem will face an unshakeable disruption. The fishing industry, which accounts for 38 million people, will fall apart. According to Karen Kirkpatrick, a writer for the education website “How Stuff Works, the world community will witness “hunger, poverty and political instability.”

Eventually, the doomed fate of our livelihoods will be unstoppable. This is why I want to bring this issue forward and wake you up to this grim reality. As Richard Vevers, an activist on the forefront of ocean conservation said, “Every piece of climate change action… [is] about improving people’s lives.” And, in this case, saving them.

Most of us are totally unaware of this. I was too, until I saw an amazing documentary Chasing Coral over the summer. I promise you will be blown away by the film. I was hit hard and moved to act. I devoted this year to bringing awareness to the issue of coral bleaching by joining the CRLS Marine Conservation Club and hosting a coral awareness event at the Cambridge Public Library. The event included a screening of Chasing Coral and a post film discussion with four BU graduate students who do research in the field of marine biology.

Awareness is the first step to making a difference and saving our future, so please pay attention. The issue of coral bleaching was brought to my attention, and I am passing this responsibility of engagement on to you. The riveting facts in Chasing Coral shocked me, and they will move you too. Take the time, pay attention…watch the documentary.

And take action! There are many different foundations devoted to saving our coral reefs and addressing the issues that threaten coral. A few include: The Coral Reef Alliance, Reef Check Foundation, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and 350.org.

Coral matters to you and me, to our own survival and to the survival of generations to follow. Be moral and save coral!

This piece also appears in our March/April print edition.

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The Backbone of Our Ocean Is Going to Die