Another dissolving landmark: coral reefs

A recent report looks at yet another factor in the deteriorating condition of the world’s delicate coral reefs: increased acid levels in the world’s oceans due to — of course — increased carbon dioxide levels in the world’s atmosphere.

By now we all know where carbon dioxide comes from. All us greedy, polluting humans. Evidently, up until recently, the oceans absorbed about 1/3 of this pollutant, keeping balance in our air. But, as with everything else, the levels of carbon dioxide have skyrocketed, overloading the oceans and increasing their acidity. The acid removes carbonate from the water, and carbonate is key to keeping alive all the little colorful and intricate critters that make up coral reefs.

If you’ve never seen a coral reef, you’re missing out. No words, or even photographs, can truly prepare you for the thrilling sight of this complex, brilliant, alien ecosystem underwater. I was lucky enough to go scuba diving at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef almost ten years ago. With all my love of mountains and rivers and great cold wildernesses, I don’t think any natural sight will ever compare with those few silent hours among the oh-so-fragile and dazzling corals and fishes.

It was a shock several years later to see a mini-documentary that showed the gray, dead coral reef graveyards that make up an increasing proportion of the Great Barrier Reef. Pollution, overfishing, climate change, agriculture runoff — there’s almost too many factors to contemplate in trying to save these places from complete destruction.

This excellent article at BBC News lays out the current efforts aimed at saving the world’s reefs. It’s going to be a decades-long process, but it’s encouraging that the world slowly seems to be moving to a conservation mindset rather than consumption.

Travelers can certainly play a part in the preservation campaign. It’s daunting to realize that the carbon dioxide spewed by your trip to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef might also be killing it more quickly, so, as with all things, it’s important to think about how you can balance your wanderlust with earthlove. Start by planting trees, and continue by searching out travel options and tours that emphasize carbon offsets and minimal environmental impact. Planting a magnolia might seem prosaic, but trees’ carbon dioxide-sucking power might at least give us some breathing space before the planet self-destructs.

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