According to research by Abel Valdivia, marine biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, the biggest threat to our world's coral reefs is fossil fuel use. Burning fossil fuels increases atmospheric carbon, contributing to climate change, resulting in rising ocean temperatures and acidification, all of which are killing our reefs.
Coral is actually a community of living animals, intricately interconnected not just with each other but with marine biosystems around the planet. Think: Great Barrier Reef, one of the great wonders of the world, which is already severely bleached and over half dead. When the changes brought by human development and exploitation erode water conditions, crucial reef systems begin to collapse, jeopardizing not just biological diversity and the beauty of these natural wonders, but our very means of survival. Coral reefs are nurseries for our fisheries, shelter a staggering array of life, prevent beach erosion, provide buffers against storms and tidal surges, and are, themselves, crucial carbon sinks that guard the Earth from the effects of a heating planet.
Ocean is not able to absorb heat and carbon
While the crisis of bleaching/dying reefs has been hot on the radar of scientists and conservationists for decades, what wasn't clear was what, exactly, is the biggest contributor to coral bleaching. These new findings from Valdivia pinpoint continued burning of fossil fuels as the most devastating contributor, underscoring the critical importance of changing our unsustainable, consumptive lifestyles.
Valdivia advises that current strategies like creating protected areas, conserving habitat, guarding biodiversity, restoring water quality, preventing over-fishing and raising awareness while critically important, simply are not enough. He warns, "But when it comes to saving our coral reefs for the future, there’s one important thing we must do immediately: end our unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels."