The climate-coral connection

Society and human life have always been entangled with other aspects of our world ecosystem that ultimately affect us sooner or later. Marine biodiversity is no exception — what goes on with humanity affects the life in our seas and oceans, and vice versa. So when we see that marine life around the world is under threat, it’s worth examining what this means for everything else on the planet — including our climate, and of course humanity as a whole.

Marine biodiversity refers to the species richness and abundance in the world’s oceans and seas. Since our world is approximately 70% water, the amount of life in the oceans is enormous. Healthy marine ecosystems are important for society since they provide services including food security, feed for livestock, raw materials for medicines, building materials from coral rock and sand, and natural defenses against hazards such as coastal erosion and inundation. It’s hard to imagine what human life would be like without all of this, especially life for the billions of people living in coastal areas around the world. However, that is exactly what’s happening in some places — entire ecosystems are losing their ability to regenerate due to human-induced changes to our environment. One of the most impacted ecosystems in this regard is the coral reef ecosystem, something very abundant in our own country..

These coral reefs are sometimes called “the rainforests of the sea”. They provide shelter for the fishes while also protecting coastlines from storm surges and strong waves. Other benefits of coral reefs include some level of ocean water filtration. Additionally, these vibrant ecosystems also help combat climate change as they are very effective carbon sinks, meaning they help regulate the level of carbon dioxide in the planet.

Unfortunately, coral reef ecosystems are severely threatened. Threats such as pollution, sedimentation (the process where water becomes cloudy), unsustainable fishing practices, and rising ocean temperatures can stress corals, leading to possible death, while others cause physical damage to these delicate ecosystems. If these threats continue without proper resolution and management, more and more reefs will be damaged. The future of one of the most productive marine ecosystems is therefore at great risk .

The Philippines belongs to the Coral Triangle, which contains 75% of the world’s coral species — most of these classified as threatened. As the ocean temperature changes due to global warming, our reefs will suffer in the long run, with an estimated 99% of all coral reefs lost should we reach a 2 degree Celsius warmer world (and we’re currently on track for 3 degrees warming). It’s no exaggeration to say that this will have a catastrophic impact on humanity, especially on those who live off the sea and its ecosystems, such as small fisherfolk. 

One of the supposed solutions to the destruction of our coral reefs is the introduction of artificial man-made reefs into our oceans. An artificial reef is a human-made structure placed in the ocean to mimic the characteristics of a natural coral reef. In the Philippines, the deployment of artificial reefs or artificial habitats has aimed to address the decline in fish production by allowing the regeneration and recolonization of degraded coral reefs and their environment. However, we are still unable to duplicate natural ecosystems with this technology, and it is clear that these artificial reefs provide only a fraction of the benefits natural coral reefs, having developed and evolved over millennia, offer. It is well within humanity’s interest to fight for the preservation of our corals and marine biodiversity at large.

After all, coral reefs, as havens for marine biodiversity, are again entangled with all the other aspects of the world ecosystem. Drastic changes in water temperature, ocean acidification, extreme climatic events and unsustainable human fishing practices have led to loss of life in marine biodiversity that weakens the ocean ecosystem and creates a ripple effect across the entire planet. ” It should alarm us that world leaders are content with words and promises and inaction that, as it stands, will almost certainly obliterate coral reefs around the world.  There’s also everything that’s going on right now in the West Philippine Sea, where thousands of hectares of coral reefs have been destroyed — an issue that deserves its own article.

Our marine biodiversity, our climate, and humanity are heavily intertwined, and it’s well within our interest as a human race to ensure that our coral reefs and marine life at large is preserved. So this means tackling issues like the climate crisis at its roots: the massive carbon emissions of the Global North and fossil fuel companies actively choosing to pollute and destroy the planet. In addition to this, we must also push to preserve the remaining biodiversity in our oceans and seek to restore biodiversity in the long term. All of this will only be possible through committed collective action that seeks to reorient society into something pro-planet and pro-people.

This article is part of the Spotlight series by YACAP’s Education Committee which talks about various issues related to climate and climate action.

Published by yacaphilippines

Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines is an alliance of individuals, youth organizations, and student councils that advocate for immediate youth-led global climate action. The Fridays for Future of the Philippines.

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