Anyone who has owned tropical fish knows that they are not the most tolerant of changing conditions in their surroundings. A temperature change of a few degrees, or a small increase or decrease in salinity could wipe them out completely. Thanks to climate change, a similar scenario is playing out in coral reef systems all throughout the world.
In most other marine ecosystems, species are better able to adapt to changes in local conditions by moving to a new area, either through migration in fish or reproduction for plants.
In coral reefs, many of the organisms are not tolerant of these changes, but the free-moving organisms cannot adapt to new environments either, which could lead to extinction for many of these unique tropical species.
Under a dramatically warmer climate, some experts believe that marine life will take on a “sameness” all over the globe: Elvira Poloczanska, a professor at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, told the Guardian: “Ecological communities which are currently distinct, will become more similar to each other in many regions by the end of the century”.
Though it is of course an environmental issue, the threat climate change poses to coral reefs is a pressing economic issue for Australia, which is home to the Great Barrier Reef, a 2,500-kilometer reef system that generates almost $6 billion (AU) in tourism dollars for the country. Its maintenance, research, and associated tourism industry employs about 69,000 people.
However, despite these threats, many are lamenting Australia’s relative lack of action to combat climate change, citing lackluster emissions goals and unwillingness to bear short-term costs.