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The Coral Reef

A small tropical fish swims among Staghorn coral

A small tropical fish swims among Staghorn coral

R. Gombarik / Shutterstock

The “rainforests of the ocean,” coral reefs are biodiversity hotspots that make up less than 1% of the marine environment but are home to 25 percent of the ocean’s marine life. Coral reefs are mostly found in clear, shallow, warm waters where sunlight can penetrate and provide nutrients to the algae that sustains coral. Aside from their stunning beauty and rich marine life, coral reefs provide protection to coastal communities from hurricanes, and chemical compounds extracted from coral are used in medicine for cancer, AIDS, and other diseases.

Climate Change Impacts

Coral reefs are extremely vulnerable to warm water temperatures. When water temperature rises, the algae living in coral dies, creating large areas of dead, bleached coral reefs. Rising ocean temperatures from global warming means that events like the catastrophic 1998 coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia will become more commonplace in the future. An increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere also leads to more acidification of ocean waters which can harm coral and inhibit the production of coral reefs.

We are connected to each other, to our environment. From faraway places to our own backyard. But climate change is now changing the Earth as we know it, and animals and plants from the Arctic to the Everglades are feeling the consequences.