The famous Great Barrier Reef of Australia is making headlines for the wrong reason, like coral bleaching and is facing a crisis. Mallika Naguran reports.
“Coral bleaching is expected to occur more often and with greater severity in the future, making it difficult for corals to recover between bleaching events. As a result, the abundance of living corals on reefs is likely to decline in coming decades,” reads a statement on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website.
Elsewhere, marine degradation is evident too, from the Caribbean to the Coral Triangle – an area that stretches from Malaysia, the Philippines to Papua New Guinea. The Coral Triangle is home to 75% of known coral species.
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change projects coral reefs to undergo “long-term degradation” due to bleaching and will impact ecosystem services, which includes fish that provides nutrition. WWF reports that more than 120 million people in this region rely on the marine resources.
When we see images of ghostly white corals instead of colored and vibrant ones, what goes through our minds?
Corals being rather fussy animals react to temperature change, just like how we shift uneasily when it gets too warm, and perspire. We can certainly dash for the remote control to switch on the air-conditioner to stay cool. Corals can’t.
Apart from hikes or dips in temperature, corals get stressed when there are changes in light and nutrients. They expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn white. This causes the “bleached” coral to starve for food and become vulnerable to diseases.
The average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8 degree Celsius since 1880, and is projected to climb higher. Since global warming is causing massive coral bleaching, can we do anything about it?
Are you and I personally responsible for temperature rise, the loss of habitats, and vanishing species? In part, yes. While a small quantity of greenhouse gases is produced naturally, the majority is emitted by human activities. Our lifestyle today relies on energy, and much of it comes from the burning of fossil fuels.
It is the use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal that continues to feed the global crisis. Toxic gases released from the extraction and processing of these fossil fuels continue to cause air, land and sea pollution. The gas emissions contribute to the “greenhouse” effect, hence a warmer planet.
For sure, switching from the use of oil and gas to solar powered heat and energy is a positive step towards cutting out harmful emissions like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other pollutants, even small particulate matters that get caught in our lungs.
We know that carbon itself is not a bad thing. However the over reliance of carbon materials to power our homes, offices and cars has tipped the scale to cause ambient temperatures to rise.
Natural habitats have been destroyed and continue to be harmed due to new climate patterns such as variations in rainfall and longer, warmer summers. As a result, a number of species fail to adapt to the changed environment and experience disrupted patterns of seasonal breeding. Some may migrate to cooler areas, while others can’t.
According to WWF scientists, “most species on this planet (including plants) will have to ‘move’ faster than 1,000 meters per year if they are to keep within the climate zone which they need for survival. Many species will not be able to redistribute themselves fast enough to keep up with the coming changes. These species, as far as we know given present knowledge, may well become extinct.”
WWF has described global warming to have a “winnowing effect” on ecosystems. While it filters out species that are not highly mobile, it also favors “a less diverse, more ‘weedy’ vegetation and ecosystems that are dominated by pioneer species, invasive species.”
It is a fact — we are largely responsible for climate change and the knock on effect on plants, animals and livelihoods.
Beating Climate Change
People and businesses can act collectively to reduce temperature rise by becoming energy efficient, and even generating alternative and clean energy.
The Paris climate agreement has urged all to do what they can to avoid catastrophic climate change by limiting global warming to 1.5C to 2C compared to the pre-industrial era by year 2100.
Participating governments of the agreement have committed to replace fossil fuels by clean energy in the second half of this century. Japan, for instance, aims to derive 22% – 24% of its electricity production from renewable sources by 2030. The European Union hopes to reach 27% of its final energy consumption with clean energy substitutes.
In each country, companies are making the difference.
Malaysia’s largest solar farm, Amcorp Gemas Solar Power Plant, generates about 13.6 million kWh of clean electricity each year with Yingli Solar multicrystalline 250Wp modules. The clean energy is fed into the power grid, reducing around 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year — comparable to energy guzzled typically by more than 3,300 homes in Malaysia each year.
Over in New South Wales in Australia, IKEA Tempe has installed 990kW rooftop photovoltaic system with Yingli Solar monocrystalline solar panels to harness energy from the sun. The carbon emission eliminated is equivalent to taking 306 cars off the roads each year!
Less pollution, less carbon emissions, curtailed temperature rise — yes it is possible to achieve all of these. And they help corals thrive in a kinder world.
Images courtesy of XL Catlin Seaview Survey