I recently watched Chasing Coral, a documentary I first heard about when I took a skin diving class. It’s an hour and a half long, and after seeing the documentary, it further strengthened the baffling thought at the back of my mind. A thought that has been bothering me every time I’d travel and witness how the environment has been changing. A thought that the corals so conveniently affirmed.
Humans do not deserve Earth!
Chasing Coral exposed an ugly and sad truth
Chasing Coral is a documentary created by marine biologists and coral gurus. It discussed how corals, seemingly ubiquitous marine animals (yep, they are animals), are experiencing a phenomenon no one’s expected would happen few decades ago.
While the documentary made me regret so many things in my life like not taking a degree in Biology, not taking dive lessons early on, and appreciating marine life quite too late (despite growing up just a kilometre away from the coastline), it’s also exposed ugly and sad truths that our ocean is facing. The corals, the largest structures of biological origin on Earth, are dying at an unbelievable pace.
The death of corals is an issue that should not just concern biologists worldwide but should bother every human being on this planet.
What are corals?
Each coral is composed of thousands or even millions of Coral Polyps (see photo below). They are “tiny, soft-bodied organisms related to sea anemones and jellyfish”. It is a “tubular saclike animal with a central mouth surrounded by a ring of tentacles”. Its size varies from coral to coral, the biggest known is 10 inches in diameter while it could also be as small as 0.04 inch (1 mm).
“At their base is a hard, protective limestone skeleton called a calicle, which forms the structure of coral reefs.” Each coral polyp creates copies that will later form a colony, that belongs to a much bigger colony which are the coral reefs. The average life span of a coral colony is 5 years to several centuries. Some of the coral colonies alive today began growing over 50 million years ago.
Coral reefs are essential in maintaining the balance of the global ecosystem. It serves as the home and breeding ground to most marine life-forms. The same life-forms provide sustenance not just to the marine ecosystem but even for avian and land wildlife, too — the whole food chain basically. On top of it all, billions of people worldwide, “especially the world’s poorest— rely on healthy oceans to provide jobs and food.
Corals have spoken their last testament
How come then that these centuries-old colonies are dying? Like any other animals, corals are vulnerable to changes in the environment. And now, the corals are facing the biggest threat there is — the global rise of ocean temperature caused by Climate Change.
It’s a known fact that Climate Change is happening. However, not known to many is the role of the Earth’s body of water to this global phenomenon.
Climate Change is caused by the increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (from coal power plants, industrial factories, and anything that burns fossil fuels) in our atmosphere. Such harmful substances prevent the excess heat that reached our planet from escaping back to space. Since Earth’s surface is 70% covered by water, it absorbs 90% of the heat trapped in our planet resulting in an exponential increase in ocean temperatures.
How do all these impact corals? Corals may have been on Earth for centuries but they are not immune from sudden changes in ocean temperature. Because of the exponential rise of ocean temperature, a global massacre is happening. Corals are bleaching and, eventually, are dying.
“When water is too warm, corals will expel the symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead [yet]. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.” – Ocean Service NOAA
The Chasing Coral team documented the massive bleaching that is happening in the world’s richest and expansive marine ecosystem — The Great Barrier Reef. And what they documented is unnerving, and depressing even. See a snippet of the documentary below:
Half of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the natural world and the largest coral reef system in the planet, are dying. The corals couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to adapt to the rapid increase in ocean temperature. Losing the world’s coral reefs could have the same gravity and adverse impact as losing the planet’s forests.
“Imagine your body temperature rises one-degree centigrade or two-degree centigrade over a period of time, that would be fatal.” – Richard Vevers
The death of these corals implies a much bigger issue. Their death not only speaks of truths about the impending disasters that are about to happen but also about how humans have been contributing a lot to the crisis our planet is now facing. It’s as if the corals are speaking: “What have you done? We don’t deserve this. And you don’t deserve the Earth either.”
The human race doesn’t deserve Earth
The blue planet, the only planet that is known to support what we humans call life, is now at the mercy of the civilization that it gave birth to. We, who now prove to be undeserving of the planet’s resources, beauty, and the life that it gives, continue to do nothing but cause damage not just to our fellow humans but to all Earth’s life-forms.
The human race’s insatiable hunger for advancement in terms of technology and industrialisation, which started in the mid-20th century is quite admirable. However, the same hunger had resulted in so many adverse effects on our planet and the life that depends on it. Every year, we are annually dumping 40 billion tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere. The ocean has also become our massive sewer. In the past 25 years, we “have destroyed a tenth of Earth’s remaining wilderness.” Cutting and burning forest lands led to not just lost habitat for most species, but also to the inability of our planet to lessen our carbon emissions.
All these, the wrongdoings of humans are causing Climate Change and pushing the planet to the verge of environmental destruction. And in the year “2030, 90% of all coral reefs will die” alongside other species, if we did not act upon this issue and change our ways.
“Do we need forests? Do we need trees? Do we need reefs? Or can we just sort of live in the ashes of all of that?” – Dr. Phil Dustan, Marine Biologist
You might have noticed that I’ve been using “we” and “our” all throughout in this article. You might claim that you’ve never contributed in trashing this planet, in killing the corals and other life-forms. However, know that in one way or another, each human has directly or indirectly contributed to the environmental issues we are now facing. But are we content with doing nothing for the protection and preservation of our home planet?
Corals sacrificed their lives, let it not go in vain
Coral reefs all over the world are suffering, most of them are dying. Being one of the first living things to greatly suffer the impact of Climate Change, they sent us a clear signal, an emergency warning. And as human beings, labelling ourselves as the most intelligent species on Earth, we are responsible and accountable to heed the nature’s warning and work towards a sustainable solution to avert the much bigger catastrophe that is about to come.
As depressing and disempowering the issues may sound, know that even ordinary individuals can contribute to saving not just our coral reefs but our whole planet. From simple acts like proper waste disposal, applying energy-saving practices, to supporting the call for renewable energy and the adoption of meaningful global legislations towards the protection of our environment. All these acts may seem minute but, collectively, it could help mitigate the effects of Climate Change.
The corals have spoken. They have warned us by showing signs and sacrificing their lives, but their voice alone seemed not too loud and clear as they wanted it to be. They need our help. The planet needs our voice, our loud and clear conviction to help and save the environment. Until then we’d be able to fight the exponential impact of the catastrophe that is Climate Change, by creating a ripple effect for positive and sustainable environmental reforms and initiatives.
Only then, the corals’ sacrifice wouldn’t go in vain and their last will and testament would finally be fulfilled.