On March 25, 2022, the management authority of Australia's Great Barrier Reef confirmed that the reef is experiencing a mass coral bleaching event. Scientists have warned that many fish communities in the coral reefs are losing their colour which in turn will lead to a much less colourful environment under the water, thus depleting the earth of its diversity in marine ecology.
What is Coral Bleaching?
The anomaly of coral bleaching occurs when corals lose their bright and vibrant colours. To human eyes, this seems like a mere issue of attraction but it is much more than that. The microscopic algae called zooxanthellae is why corals appear bright and colourful. The zooxanthellae live inside the coral, and both help each other survive.
Currently, the leading cause of coral bleaching is climate change. Due to climate change, global sea temperatures are rising because of which the coral stresses out and exhausts the algae. A minute change of even 2 degrees Fahrenheit may cause the coral to expel the algae. As the algae leave, the coral fades and looks bleached. The corals will die in the current scenario with high temperatures.
How is it impacting the Colour of Fish?
A paper got published in the Global Change Biology by marine ecologist Christopher R. Hemingson and his colleagues, Michalis Mihalitsis and David R. Bellwood from James Cook University regarding the phenomenon of coral bleaching. The study investigated data around coral colonies in the aloof Orpheus island, situated in the centre of the great barrier reef. The piece stated, “We found that diversity of colours found within a fish community is directly related to the composition of its local environment. Areas with a higher cover of structurally complex corals contained fish species with more diverse and brighter colourations.” For this research, they looked at the heterogeneousness of colours found in the coteries that were around healthier regions then compared it with other regions showcasing the effect of heatwaves, algae influx, among other issues, over 27 years.
Due to climate change, the remaining coral reefs that are complex have become rare. Because of this, the fishes around these reefs are losing their colour and are becoming duller. In the wild, colours play a vital role. What seems like beautiful patterns and attraction to us is a major factor for fishes to survive in the wild. Using their colour, they hide from predators, and it also helps in preying as they blend in with the environment. These colours also attract potential mates. Without mating, the reproduction of a species would stop, making them extinct.
How can we help?
If we are keen to protect corals for future generations and preserve marine ecology then immediate steps need to be taken. At our level, a change in our daily actions can help reduce reef loss like using recyclable material and reducing stormwater runoff or avoiding herbicides and pesticides, which can help. But if we want to change, then dialogues at a bigger level need to be held.
The war against climate has to stop. During the 2015 Paris Agreement, the G7 and G20 made a lot of promises, but we are in 2022, and the nations are still failing secure agreements and abide by their word.
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