Great Sadness Over Coral Death

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.

Live verses dying underwater coral reefs
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.

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3 Responses to Great Sadness Over Coral Death

  1. Mike Smith says:

    I have been reading your posts and getting caught up on your Tahina trip after I read your Paticat adventures. I am appreciative of the geography lessons and travel advice. You and your wife worked hard for this and you deserve the opportunity you now have to see the world.
    This log entry on coral bleaching is certainly a fact and your cause discussion has some merit. The combination of higher ocean temperatures and coastal exploding populations in the asian areas you mention are certainly the “regional” causes.
    However, on a more global scale, it is clear that the higher ocean temperatures in the ocean manifest themselves in certain places and not others due to currents and periodic oscillations (this could effect where you see this effect and where you don’t – in addition to population density and local laws/cultural responsibility). These are all caused and trend based on the dominant form of heating source – the sun! To even hint that the human race is even close to a “dominant” contributor to this heating phenomona is ingenuine. We know very little about the global model and all the stimulants and reactions from it. The science is far from settled – and it is the height of hypocracy to think we know this model and its effects. You word this entry carefully, but please keep an open mind as you continue your observations – and let’s keep it scientifically based (which is difficult to do based on the observations made on the trip you are taking) if we are going to start placing blame.
    You are in a unique position to create visibility and awareness (which is great – and we need to educate responsibly). That has huge responsibility in making claims about something this significant.
    Happy trails, safe travels, and smooth sailing to both of you and your fellow travelers.

  2. Frank Taylor says:

    I can say based on direct observation that I’ve seen a lot of damage to coral reefs around the world caused by human factors. And, it is true we have no definitive proof, that mankind is the “dominant” cause to weather changes (we will never have definitive proof in the eyes of businesses doing the most harm). There is also no question that man has added billions upon billions of tons of chemicals and unnatural by-products to the atmosphere, the ocean, and the lands of our planet that would not have occurred without our presence. To hint that this is NOT having an effect is definitely not scientific.

    • Mike Smith says:

      Thanks for the speedy reply. I enjoy following your travels. Can’t wait to catch up to where you are now and then just keep up. I am learning a lot about places I haven’t been and some cultural aspects of many of those places. I am very appreciative of that.
      I have immense respect for your personal observations. They are facts. However, your observations have few control samples in the experiment to measure the changes (unless you have objective prior evidence of the same locations over a measurable periodicity and some way to establish a meaningful control sample for objective comparison). I do agree that human byproducts have a regional impact. However, this does not prove that the human effect you describe above is the reason for the increased temperature of the oceans – these are seperable phenomena and there is no proof that they are linked. Pollution is tragic and needs to be controlled – responsibly. Developing countries (which are the ones you dominantly visit on your travels) don’t have the controls that 1st world and your self labelled 2nd world contries (a little joke there) have. They need to get them, but if we force those on them immediately, we bankrupt the nations we claim we want to help.
      I never hinted that human byproducts don’t effect the coral reefs you describe. I think they do chemically. I do not think you can link that pollution to increased ocean temperatures which cause the bleaching you descibe. That is dominated by the sun. And we will see these effects change some time in the future as the sun’s intensity gets into a new phase.
      My point is let’s improve what we can (continuously improved human pollution management) and not link without facts that pollution to global rising temperatures.

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