The following is an excerpt from MICHELLE STARR, DANIEL VAN BOOM | October 18, 2017 | CBSNews.com |
No one would challenge the majesty of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Nearly 1,500 miles long, the reef is alight with a kaleidoscope of vivid colors. It's home to roughly 9,000 species of fish, molluscs, whales and other creatures. In 1981, the reef was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a status that helps it draw 2 million visitors a year.
It's also dying. At our own hands.
Two major bleaching events have wracked the Great Barrier Reef over the last two years, leaving chunks of it dead. Bleachings happen when the coral expels tiny algae, called zooxanthellae, that live inside it and provide its food and create its rainbow hues. Without zooxanthellae, the reef's tissue turns transparent and the coral starves.
Global warming, fueled by our reliance on petroleum and coal, has pushed ocean temperatures 0.68 Celsius over the past century. That might not seem like much, but it's enough to prompt the coral and algae to abandon their symbiotic relationship. While coral doesn't die immediately, the bleachings have been intense enough to kill huge swaths of one of the world's most stunning natural wonders, including 29 percent of its shallow water coral in 2016 alone.
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