Corals have limestone skeletons filled with thousands of small animals called POLYPS. Each Polyp has:
- a Skeleton Cup
- a Mouth
- a Stomach
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work so smoothly.
When the oceans are too warm, the algae inside the corals can’t perform photosynthesis or make sugar to eat. Nitrogen ends up building up and poisoning the algae. To save itself, the coral spits out the algae. But without the algae to make sugar for them, the coral starves to death and loses all its colour.
This process is called coral bleaching and scientists are seeing way more of it than they used to. In fact, coral reefs are disappearing at a rate of about 1-2% every year!
At this pace they could be gone in 50-100 years! This would be a disaster for the oceans because corals help protect shorelines, AND they also give lots of other ocean-faring organisms a home and a tasty nitrogen meal.
But why are oceans getting warmer in the first place? Yep, you guessed it, climate change and other stresses including:
Nitrates and other excessive nutrients from fertilizers on farm fields and gardens, which can cause algae blooms that smother parts of the coral reefs.
Damage from swimmers, boaters and tourists who aren’t careful around the reefs
There are lots of things you can do above water to help out:
- Clean up after your dogs so their poop doesn’t drain nitrates into the water/rivers/oceans.
- Learn more about marine protected areas and proposed marine areas in Canada.
- Before you accidentally eat an endangered ocean dweller, check the Canada Seafood Guide to make sure your fishy meal’s got the stamp of approval.