World Oceans Day: Will There Be Coral Reefs for Our Children?

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Published on June 8th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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When I was in fourth grade, my family took a vacation to Hawaii to visit my aunt and her family, who had been relocated to the islands for work. This was at the height of the Magnum, P.I. series, so you can imagine my excitement as I pictured myself peeling around in a red Ferrari wearing tan short shorts and swooping over Diamondhead in TC’s helicopter, foiling yet another international ring of art thieves.

What I didn’t expect was to be exposed to a psychedelic world of shape and color five feet below crystal blue water. But that, of course — and not the Ferrari — is what I got.

There are two things I remember about our trip to Hanauma Bay:

  • Putting on a snorkel for the first time freaked me out. Breathing underwater, sounding like Darth Vader and feeling the rise and fall of the ocean, was crazy and I believe I almost hyperventilated.
  • Being amazed by the sheer number of fish and coral in the park once I calmed down. It is one of the defining moments in my love of nature.

But now I wonder, will my sons (ages three and one-month) be blessed with the same experience? Coral reefs are one of the most endangered marine habitats and the future is only getting bleaker because of climate change, which serves as a triple threat to reefs. Climate change creates:

Climate change kills delicate coral by changing the chemical composition of the ocean – making the water too warm. Also, the cause of climate change — increasing CO2 levels — makes the water too acidic for the survival of reef systems.

To be fair, childhood wonderment is pretty far down on the list of reasons to be concerned, considering that coral reefs provide a direct livelihood to hundred of millions of people and are a critical defense against storms for many coastal areas. Frankly, without coral reefs a lot of communities are in serious trouble.

So what’s to be done? As our World Oceans Day web feature points out, the first step is to protect existing reefs as much as we can so they stand a fighting chance against climate change.

Also, Conservancy scientists are finding that there are some reef systems that seem to be hardier than others in the face of climate change. The Conservancy is working to identify these systems and find out what makes them resilient to climate change. The idea is that these systems can than be used (through currents and through actual transplantation) to repopulate systems that are more susceptible to climate change.

Hopefully, through sound science and creative thinking, we’ll have the coral reefs we depend on for generations. And my sons Oliver and Quinn will get the chance to put on a dive mask and be exposed to the wonders of the reef.

(Image: A snorkeler explores a coral reef in the coastal waters of Micronesia. Photo © Ami Vitale.)

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