There is something magical about the underwater environment that enthralls me. Much like the avian landscape of the sky, with its clouds and winds, man made machines, the ocean is a similar place in that creatures within it can travel up and down, plus side to side. We on land are reduced to a two dimensional mode of travel, provided we stay on solid ground we can go anywhere.
Marine animals do not have this problem, on the whole, they can go anywhere they please. There are of course limits and indeed exceptions to this, as we all know that snails and slugs live in the water also, and they are not keen swimmers. Plants too, they can latch on to the aquatic rocks which support them, and of course coral, the invertebrate life-form which makes up the spectacular coral reefs we see in the magazines and documentaries.
Something unusual is happening to our friends the corals, not only are they under threat from pickers who gather the rare and expensive skeletons that they deposit and live within, thrashing their habitat to the bare rock for a quick and easy pay day but now sea temperature rises have caused their ecosystem to go completely awry. Coral bleaching is taking place on an ever increasing scale, the tragic incident of the complete whitening and death of the extensive reef at Lizard Island two years ago has been prolonged by an extended El Nino as well as the general rise in water temperatures over the recent timescale.
Experts predict a possible recovery in time, provided the areas are left to re-naturalise over the coming years and the temperatures stay within comfortable ranges for the corals. Over fishing and pollutants can cause the issue to not resolve naturally, which is devastating for the local area.
Around 93% of the Great Barrier Reef is now affected by bleaching and around 25% of it is completely dead. That's 25% of a 2300 km stretch of living coral. Dubbed as a marine tragedy by all experts involved, the issue is more than serious. Nearly every reef in North America is on bleaching watch, and the reefs in the Hawaiian Islands have already been under close guard since the Lizard Island incident a few years ago.
The spectacular images of coral reefs may be a thing of the past sometime, as all reefs are expected to experience bleaching by the mid century, and it's unclear how far this may continue into the further future.
Rowan Blair Colver
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