Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems. Scientific evidence now clearly indicates that the Earth's atmosphere and ocean are warming, and that these changes are primarily due to greenhouse gases derived from human activities.
As temperatures rise, mass coral bleaching events and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent. Additionally, carbon dioxide absorbed into the ocean from the atmosphere has already begun to reduce calcification rates in reef-building and reef-associated organisms by altering seawater chemistry through decreases in pH. This process is called ocean acidification.
Climate change will affect coral reef ecosystems, through sea level rise, changes to the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, and altered ocean circulation patterns. When combined, all of these impacts dramatically alter ecosystem function, as well as the goods and services coral reef ecosystems provide to people around the globe.
Increased greenhouse gases from human activities result in climate change and ocean acidification. Climate change = ocean change. The world's ocean is a massive sink that absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2). Although this has slowed global warming, it is also changing ocean chemistry.
Contributing factors that increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere include burning fossil fuels for heat and energy, producing some industrial products, raising livestock, fertilizing crops, and deforestation. Climate change leads to:
Shrink your carbon footprint to reduce greenhouse gases.
Do your part to help improve overall coral reef condition.
Many serious coral reef ecosystem stressors originate from land-based sources, most notably toxicants, sediments, and nutrients.
Many coastal and island communities depend on coral reef fisheries, but overfishing can deplete key reef species and damage coral habitat.
Last updated: 02/26/21
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