Global Warming and Coral Reefs

In today’s society, the problem of global warming is known to almost every inhabitant of the Earth. In fact, climate change is extremely relevant today as it indicates an increase in the level of the oceans, the melting of glaciers and permafrost, increased uneven rainfall patterns, river flow regime changes and other global changes related to climate instability.

Thus, this paper presents the information on global warming itself and its major causes, as well as explores how global warming can affect coral reefs and what we should do in order to prevent coral reefs from dying off.

As a result, climate change is considered to be the greatest threat to nature and humanity in the 21st century. Even today in many parts of the globe, we can trace the visible effects of climate change:  melting glaciers, rising sea levels, dying coral reefs, severe storms, heavy flooding, reduced snowfalls in the north and severe droughts in the south.

How Global Warming Occurs

By a simple definition, global warming is a gradual increase in the average temperature of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Our planet is warming and it has a catastrophic effect on the ice caps of the earth. Temperature rises, the ice begins to melt, and as a result, the sea begins to rise. As a result of global warming, the climate system comes in an unstable state. This condition causes different extreme weather conditions (the so-called natural disasters). These include hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, winds, heavy snowfalls and frosts, prolonged rains, and much more. In fact, they inflict tremendous damages and lead to a large loss of life. Today, the main hypotheses, determining the causes of climate change are as follows:

  1. increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to
  1. human activities;
  2. impact of natural sources.
  1. solar activity;
  2. volcanic activity;
  3. unknown relationship between the Earth to the Sun and the planets of the solar system;
  4. explosions.

As a matter of fact, the effects of global warming are evident from the equator to the poles. In particular, it negatively affects coral reefs that are in danger of dying due to global warming, pollution, climate change, and overfishing. In fact, coral reefs are not only essential and vital to sea life, but also to those living on dry land. They are unique and complex ecosystems, which remain largely unexplored and hidden from the rest of the world. However, the coral reefs play an important role in regulating global temperature and are a major producer of oxygen. Coral reefs, which occupy only 0.5 percent of the seabed, are complex three-dimensional structures that have been formed over the centuries as a result of the cretaceous sediment cores of coral rocks. Coral reefs are “often called ‘rainforests of the sea’ for their rich biodiversity, the coral on which these diverse ecosystems are based are actually living organisms themselves” (“Global Warming and Coral Reefs” par. 3). In fact, this allegory underestimates the complex structure of coral reefs, where there are  much more representatives of the animal and plant life than in the tropical forests, where nutrients are circulated through the intricate food web, and where food is provided at all levels of the trophic chain. Undoubtedly, coral reefs are the foundation of the ocean food chain. As it is stated that “in coral reefs around the world thousands of marine species find food and shelter, which in turn support economically valuable recreational and commercial fishing” (“Global Warming and Coral Reefs” par. 5). In return, hundreds of millions of people worldwide rely mainly on marine fish as one of the most essential sources of protein. Historically, the sea is an important transportation artery, a source of food and a favorite vacation spot. Most large cities have been constructed and developed along the coast as important shopping areas. Surely, “coral reefs are hotspots for the tourism industry, which thrive on providing visitors with unforgettable scuba diving and snorkeling experiences” (“Global Warming and Coral Reefs” par. 6). The growth of cities appears today at a fraction of the world’s population (about 80 percent), which lives in the range of 100 kilometers from the coast of the sea and gets their livelihoods (about 3.5 billion people).

Indeed, the survival of the poorest people on the Earth depends on their close relationship with the sea. The economic importance of the sea is clearly manifested in ecosystem services provided through fisheries, tourism, coastal protections, as well as its role as a source of the raw materials. Such dependence on the sea today is threatened by adverse environmental conditions caused by global climate change.


Estimated Environmental Change

In order to fully assess the impact of climate change on coral reefs and marine environment as a whole, it is necessary to consider the predicted environmental changes and to assess the ability of marine organisms to adapt to these changes. Climate models indicate that we can expect an increase in sea surface temperature at 1-3 ° C, while the sea level will rise to 0,18-0,79 m. Regional weather patterns seem to be changing and this is manifested in the strength and frequency of heavy rainfalls, especially cyclones. In addition, we can expect changes in the modes of ocean circulation and the pH will decline as a result of CO2 absorption. As Professor Hoegh-Guldberg points out “the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is 380 parts per million (ppm), which is 80ppm higher than where it has been for the past 740,000 years, if not 20 million years” (“Global Warming Is Destroying Coral Reefs” par. 12). In fact, it is a significant problem that should be taken into consideration and managed properly.

Impact on the Marine Environment

Despite the millions of years of evolution today marine organisms must quickly adapt to the new conditions of life. A habitat of marine organisms is exposed to changes in two main aspects: 1) changes occurring in their natural habitat and prey base, and 2) changes in the chemical composition of the ocean. Marine plants, mainly planktons are primary producers that form the base of the food chain. As expected, there will be a gradual decrease in the number of these plants in the warm waters that, in fact, will reduce the amount of nutrients available to the organisms of consumers of the next link of the food chain. Furthermore, the temperature is an important trigger in the life cycles of many plants and marine organisms, and as a rule, those feeding, growth and reproduction processes are often consistent over time. If a synchronization process is broken, there will be a risk that organisms can enter the “stage of life” when their food sources have already disappeared. The expected increase in ocean temperatures can cause a migration of marine organisms, which depend on their temperature tolerance – heat-tolerant species will expand their habitat area in a northerly direction, and less tolerant species will simply withdraw from the usual places. Such a change in ocean dynamics will have a devastating effect on those species that are not able to migrate, and can lead to their death. Ocean acidification, i.e. increasing the concentrations of CO2 by reducing the pH of seawater, not only reduces the abundance of phytoplankton, but also reduces the accumulation of calcium salts in some marine organisms, such as corals and shellfish that can lead to an increased fragility of their bones and stunted growth. In actuality, “as the oceans become more acidic, the corals’ ability to form skeletons through calcification is inhibited, causing their growth to slow” (“Global Warming and Coral Reefs” par. 9). What is more, ocean acidification can negatively affect more than just coral reefs. Just like coral reefs, ocean acidification makes it harder for many living organisms “to absorb the calcium carbonate they need to build their shells” (“How does climate change affect coral reefs?” par. 6).

However, the most serious threat to coral reefs is water discoloration due to an increase in sea surface temperatures. Since climate change significantly continues, discoloration will become more widespread, and thus the coral reefs’ overall health will surely decline. Hence, discoloration occurs when the prolonged temperature increases lead to breaking the link between corals and their symbiotic zooxanthellae (kelp). “If water temperatures stay higher than usual for many weeks, the zooxanthellae they depend on for some of their food leave their tissue. Without zooxanthellae, corals turn white because zooxanthellae give corals their color” (“How does climate change affect coral reefs?” par. 2). Some corals can recover (often immunocompromised), but in most cases, they die.

The real problem lies in the fact that deviations from climate change are superimposed on the marine environment, which is already under pressure from direct or indirect anthropogenic stress factors associated with overfishing (excessive fishing catches) and illegal forms of fishing, coastal development, land-based sources of pollution and inland marine pollution. Such a cumulative effect of multiple stress factors creates extremely unfavorable conditions for the world’s coral reefs, and as a result, about one-third of the colonies of marine plants and organisms are endangered. Throughout the world, there is a significant reduction in the number of coral reefs. In 1998, Graham – a team member that received a research grant from the Committee for Research and Exploration said that “over 16 percent of the world’s reefs … were lost in that one year… It was a huge event” (Markey par. 9-10).

Ways to Help Coral Reefs

The importance of coral reefs cannot be overstated. Hence, it is important to take all the possible measures to deal with this problem. Solving problems concerning the coral reefs has a twofold character: adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation involves some adjustments in natural or human systems and the environmental efforts to improve the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems due to activities such as the restoration of coral reefs, the definition of stress-resistant species, the reduction of overfishing and the establishment of marine protected areas. The latter are considered to be the best option for the management of marine resources aimed at conserving coral reefs and other ecosystems of the sea, as being closed to fishing, they serve as a safe haven, where the population can grow to subsequently replenish the marine environment. However, one adaptation is insufficient. At the global level, it is important to take all the possible steps to respond to climate change mitigation, namely directly reduce emissions, improve energy efficiency, limit deforestation and increase carbon sequestration. At this stage, mitigation measures, as expected, can only prevent further warming since it is impossible to reverse the current course of events.

In addition to this, it is possible to add about some important recommendations to help protect coral reefs and preserve them for future generations. It is essential to:

  1. reduce CO2 emissions because “if current CO2 emission trends continue, then even the most conservative estimates predict CO2 concentrations exceeding 500ppm and global temperature increases of 2°C or more by the end of the century” (“Global Warming Is Destroying Coral Reefs” par. 13);
  2. take the precautionary measures;
  3. reduce the use of fossil fuels in industry and replace them with new forms of energy;
  4. raise public awareness of the impending threat;
  5. never try to anchor on a coral reef;
  6. involve communities to deal with the problem. This is vital in order to achieve changes in relation to the environment and human behaviors;
  7. volunteer with different communities to clean up various waterways (rivers, lakes, seas, etc.);
  8. do not buy corals and other reef fauna, both live and dead. Coral reefs around the world significantly suffer from the collectors, destroying healthy corals;
  9. be more respectful to our nature and environment as a whole.


Taking the above-mentioned information into account, it is necessary to draw a conclusion that the problem of global warming still continues to be very relevant in today’s society. Surely, climate change is an extremely essential issue since it indicates many global changes related to climate instability, such as severe storms, heavy flooding, reduced snowfalls in the north and severe droughts in the south, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, or dying coral reefs. Being the greatest threat to nature and humanity in the 21st century, the effects of global warming are evident in the different corners of our global. Especially climate change negatively affects coral reefs, which are in danger of dying off.

Coral reefs play an important role in maintaining the ecological and climatic balance on the planet. They concentrate carbonates, and, therefore, carbon. Tons of coral reefs link many tons of carbon. The temperature regime on the planet depends on the ratio of atmospheric carbon dioxide and carbon dissolved in the oceans. Therefore, the mass death of corals would necessarily entail an increase in the carbon concentration in the water, and thus climate change. In addition, the economic significance of the sea is clearly manifested in different ecosystem services provided through fisheries, tourism, coastal protections, as well as its role as a source of the raw materials. Therefore, it is very important to take all the possible measures to prevent coral reefs from dying off. If coral reefs disappear, it will lead to different negative consequences, such as hunger, poverty and political instability. All in all, only through the joint efforts of governmental and non-governmental organizations and other communities, it is possible to find the effective ways to help protect the coral reefs and preserve them for future generations.


Works cited

“Global Warming and Coral Reefs.” National Wildlife Federation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2013. <>.

“Global Warming Is Destroying Coral Reefs, Major Study Warns.” ScienceDaily, 14 Dec. 2007. Web. 15 Dec. 2013. <>.

“How does climate change affect coral reefs?.”, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2013. <>.

Markey, Sean. Global Warming Has Devastating Effect on Coral Reefs, Study Shows. National Geographic News, 16 May 2006. Web. 15 Dec. 2013. <>.

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: October 27, 2021] (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
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[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

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"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

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