Treating the symptoms of a problem will never eliminate the problem itself. The cause must be directly addressed for permanent change. This is the mindset with which the dying coral reefs must be approached. Rising global ocean temperatures have caused widespread coral death. Corals maintain many different acclimatization mechanisms. However, climate change has intensified to the point of overpowering these biological adjustments, leaving the coral reefs within marine protected areas of the United States as well as all over the world vulnerable to both temperature rise and acidification.
It is a common tendency to attribute the problems of coral death and coral bleaching under to the same cause. However, coral bleaching is specifically caused by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Elizabeth Selig, Ph.D. and conservation scientist, expressed concerns that, “Marine protected areas (MPAs) can protect coral reefs from localized problems, particularly overfishing and terrestrial run-off. However, the magnitude of losses from increased ocean temperatures as a result of climate change seems to be overwhelming these positive effects”.
Temperature increase most certainly negatively affects corals, but more importantly, it acts as the crony to the true culprit: acidification. The increasing levels of carbon dioxide in today’s atmosphere react with salt water, creating carbonic acid that significantly lowers the pH of the oceans. This causes coral-building organisms to lose their calcification capabilities, resulting in an inability to generate new coral, leading also to coral bleaching.
Therefore, it is not increases in atmospheric temperature that causes problems for coral development and survival. It is the increase in greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide that lead to both an increase in temperature, and the resulting decrease in ocean pH. Efforts to save and rehabilitate the coral reefs must be redirected and focused on atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, facing the cause of the problem, not simply the symptoms.