One of the big reasons we have been anxious to make our circumnavigation has been to see the wonders of tropical islands before pollution and climate change destroy these delicate environments. We have personally witnessed the devastation of coral reefs dying in the Caribbean, and seen signs of dying reefs throughout the Pacific. Coral bleaching is the effect that happens when coral die – all the colors of the living coral disappear and the coral encrustations turn white or plain. The biggest cause to coral bleaching is increasing temperatures in the ocean water.
Now, only two years before we reached the Indian Ocean and southwestern Pacific, there are reports of the worst coral bleaching in recorded history in those waters. Very warm waters invaded the area this year killing off shocking numbers of the reefs. The event extends from the Seychelles to the Philippines and includes reefs in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and many sites in western and eastern Indonesia (read more).
It’s not just the fact that thousands of reefs that will no longer be available for diving enthusiasts and underwater photographers. In a couple of years (after the dying coral reefs completely die off – it takes time for a reef to die) the local fish will no longer have enough food. This will greatly reduce fishing in the area which will impact food supplies in the already overpopulated southeast asian countries.
Personally, I grieve for the death of so many coral reefs. There are billions of life forms in just one coral reef. It’s sad that so few people appreciate how delicate and precious these life forms are to our ecosystem. I have spent hours staring up close to these reefs, and the amount of life in one small area is stunning!
The long-term effect of this awful event will be devastating to fish throughout the oceans, and eventually to every animal and human on our planet. It’s too early to say definitively, but many scientists believe human development is a major cause of the climate changes occurring right now. Coral reefs are one of the most delicate life systems on Earth – so, they are the first to be impacted by the changes in temperatures, and definite human-generated effects such as water pollution. It would be a shame if we discover we could have prevented all this death by better management of our impact on the environment.
For an example of one of the best live coral reefs we have seen to date, see photos from our visit to a coral garden in Tonga.