How does climate change impact the coral reefs?


General Information About Coral Reefs

  • Coral Reefs are calcium carbonate structures created by living organisms.
  • Coral is made up of polyps- very miniscule animals which link together to create coral reefs. Polyp:
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· During the Day coral keeps its skeleton form, looking very rough and hard. At night, Coral looks fluffy and soft because the tentacles of the polyps swing freely.
· There are about 350 species that produce coral
  • Coral Reefs are comprised of dead coral and other organisms, as well as a limestone skeleton.
    • Coral builds up towards the surface, when it reaches the surface it begins to grow outward (horizontally) because it cannot survive above water.
  • Coral Reefs are found in both shallow and deep waters, as well as tropical and temperate. Although this is true, coral reefs are predominantly found in shallow and tropical areas. Coral Reefs are found in the ocean all over the world:
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  • There are three types of coral reefs:
    • Atoll- ring shaped reefs- surrounds a lagoon
    • Fringing- form borders along shoreline
    • Barrier- they are parallel to the shore, they are found further offshore then Fringing reefs and are separated from the shore by a lagoon.
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Facts About Coral Reefs

  • Coral covers about 242,000 square kilometers of ocean
  • Coral contains a tremendous amount of diverse marine life- about 3,000 different species.
    • Coral Reefs are home to more than 25% of all marine life.
  • Coral Reefs are known as “The Rain Forests” of the ocean.

General Information on Climate Change:

  • Climate Change is caused by the build up of CO2 and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  • This build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has a warming effect.
  • The warming of the global temperature has the following effects:
    • Causes the oceans to release carbon dioxide, thus making the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase.
    • Changes in the ocean's temperature effects the oceans currents which plays a significant role in distributing heat around the world. This effects the climate from region to region.
    • Changes of land use and cover
      • Can affect temperature by changing how solar radiation is absorbed or reflected by the land.
      • Changes of land use such as:
        • Deforestation
        • Reforestation
        • Desertification
        • Urbanization
      • Impacts of changes in land use:
        • Impacts the climate like wind, temperature, and precipitation
        • Impacts the amount of carbon dioxide taken up or released by the land surface
    • Changes in the atmosphere influences:
      • Temperature
      • Precipitation
      • Storms
      • Sea Levels
      • Ocean Temperatures
      • Ocean Acidification
  • Types of responses to climate change
    • Mitigation - reducing emissions and stabilizing green house gases
    • Adaptation - involves positive adjustments in biological or cultural systems in response to actual or expected change in climate
    • Geoengineering - intentional large-scale manipulation of the climate system
  • Future of Climate Change
    • Greenhouse gas concentrations will increase during the next century unless green house gas emissions decrease substantially from the present levels
    • The amount and speed of future climate change will depend on:
      • Whether greenhouse and aerosol concentrations increase/decrease/ or stay the same
      • How strongly features of climate change (such as temperature, precipitation, sea levels, ect.) respond to changes in greenhouse gases and aerosol concentrations
      • How much the climate varies as result of natural influences (such as volcanic activity, changes in sun's intensity, ect.) and its internal variability (from random changes in the circulation of the atmosphere and ocean)
(, 2009)
(Jamison, 2009)
=Climate Change's Impact on Coral Reefs and What is being done to protect the coral reefs

  • What affects the coral reefs?
    • Pollution of the oceans
    • Hurricanes
    • Fishing (Trolling and Dynamite)
    • Tourism
    • Global Warming
  • Pollution
    • Sediment from runoff threaten the health of the reefs
    • Excess from nutrients from runoff, petroleum and pesticides cause poor water quality
    • Can cause increase growth of algae
    • Pollution can cause increase diseases in the coral reefs
    • Pesticides can make the corals unable to reproduce
  • Hurricanes
    • Hurricanes can cause physical damage to shallow reefs
  • Fishing
    • Trolling is a method of fishing where one or more fishing lines, baited with lures or bait fish, are drawn through the water. This may be behind a moving boat, or by slowly winding the line in when fishing from a static position or even sweeping the line from side-to-side.
    • Trolling lines can catch onto coral reefs pulling them apart causing physical damage.
    • Shock waves from dynamite blasts stun and kill coral reefs
  • Tourism
    • Every year tourists take pieces of coral reefs as souvenirs killing the coral reefs
    • Clumsy scuba divers touch and knock the coral reefs
  • Global warming
    • Warming oceans cause the Coral reefs to bleach killing them
    • Warmer waters don't let the reefs reproduce and stuns their growth
    • Reefs grow better and live healthier in cold water, warm water allows for more disease to grow
      • Coral bleaching is the whitening of corals, due to stress-induced expulsion or death of symbiotic unicellular algae or due to the loss of pigmentation within the algae
  • What is being done
    • clean air act of 1963 (address pollution but not global warming)
    • Coral reef reserves
    • Illegal fishing styles in certain areas
    • evolution
      • some coral reefs are adapting to live in warmer waters
(International Coral Reef Action Network,2003.)



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Jamieson, Dale. "Global Climate Change." Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy. Eds. J. Callicott and Robert Frodeman. Vol. 1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2009. 458-463. Global Reference on the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources. Gale. Pace Academy. 28 Oct. 2009

Lewis, Ricki. "Coral Reef." Biology. Ed. Richard Robinson. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2002. 183-185. Global Reference on the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources. Gale. Pace Academy. 22 Oct. 2009 <>.

Beckham, Eugene C. "Coral Reef." Environmental Encyclopedia. Eds. Marci Bortman, Peter Brimblecombe, Mary Ann Cunningham, William P. Cunningham, and William Freedman. Vol. 1. 3rd ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003. 323-325. Global Reference on the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources. Gale. Pace Academy. 22 Oct. 2009