How Does Climate Change Affect Corals?

Written by Aliyya Lathifa

Aliyya has always been passionate about the ocean. The underwater world and what lies underneath it have always fascinated her. Born and raised in Jakarta, she recently graduated from her master's studies in Marine Science. She was a part of Biorock Indonesia's team for 6 months, working as an intern.

November 2nd, 2021

Climate change is one of the biggest threats to coral reefs. Climate change is the result of increased greenhouse gases derived from different human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, the use of fertilisers, raising livestock, and many more. The impacts of climate change can be both direct and indirect, while the effect can be immediate and long term.

Climate change affect coral reefs in different ways. For instance, the warming of the ocean may cause thermal stress which increases coral bleaching. Corals have small tolerance towards temperature changes. Coral bleaching often occurs when the water gets too warm. Consequently, corals will release the zooxanthellae, the organism that gives corals their colours and will then turn white. However, it’s more than just the colours, but corals will lose the symbionts that provide food source. Corals can recover from bleaching, however, if the stress is continuous, they will not survive eventually. Climate change also increases infectious disease outbreaks.

 

Coral bleaching due to increased temperature. Image source: group.bnpparibas.com

 

In addition, climate change causes the sea level to rise and changes the storm patterns. Sea level rise may cause corals to end up in deeper water, as a result they will receive less sunlight and grow slower. In addition, sea level rise may bring more sedimentation to the sea. Sedimentation runoff will then suffocate the corals. Changing storm patterns lead to stronger, more frequent storms that are very possible to cause coral reefs destruction.

Aside from that, the effects of harmful human activities can change the level of precipitation, alter ocean currents, and cause ocean acidification. The level of precipitation affects the runoff of freshwater, sediments, and land-based pollutants, which may be responsible for algal blooms and cause muddy waters. Alteration to the ocean currents affects the distribution of food sources and larvae dispersal. Ocean acidification affects coral growth and structure, they may form weaker structures which make them more vulnerable to diseases and storms.

 

How can Biorock help corals survive global warming?

 

Flourishing coral reefs using the Biorock method. Image source: Biorock Indonesia

Biorock can help improve the settlement, growth, and health of marine organisms. It involves running a low voltage electricity to a structure of any shape and size, using conductive material (for example steel) that is designed to resist rusting. The electricity diffused an electric field, causing calcium carbonate in the waters to crystallise. The rocks formed during crystallisation resemble to limestone. In addition, the structure is self-repairing which means if there are damage (from storm or wave), the process will still continue and the rocks will be formed again.

Corals need energy to secrete a skeleton of calcium carbonate. However, coral polyps that are attached to Biorock structure will save the energy they would have used to build the calcium carbonate skeletons and instead, use the energy for other aspects such as growing and fight diseases. It is believed that corals in Biorock structure are better to survive higher temperature and other stressors.

Biorock has had positive effects on corals’ health, growth, and adaptation towards environmental stressors. It prevents mass coral bleaching from happening and maintain the coral’s resiliency towards the effect of climate change. Aside from corals, Biorock structure brings benefits to the community on land. Biorock can help refract water and therefore slowing down erosion.

 

How can you help?

Biorock is a tool to help corals survive the climate change better. However, us as humans still need to do our parts to safe them. Remember, little changes matter. Here are some ways you can do to help save the coral reefs:

  • When in the ocean, practice safe and responsible snorkeling/diving and use reef-friendly sunscreen.
  • Dispose trash properly and reduce, reuse, recycle.
  • Reduce the use of fertilisers.
  • Drive less (or choose a fuel-efficient car) and use environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
  • Volunteer for beach clean-ups.
  • Adopt a baby coral here http://www.biorock-indonesia.com/adopt-a-baby-coral/ and spread the words!

 

Read more about climate change and corals here:

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coralreef-climate.html

https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/reef-threats/global/

Aliyya has always been passionate about the ocean. The underwater world and what lies underneath it have always fascinated her. Born and raised in Jakarta, she recently graduated from her master's studies in Marine Science. She was a part of Biorock Indonesia's team for 6 months, working as an intern.

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