Coral Bleaching

Marcus Finke - Capstone Project 2021

A vibrant coral reef, full of life and color

Coral bleaching is an environmental disaster that will have consequences that ripple throughout the whole world if left unchecked. In the last 30 years, around 50% of coral reefs have died, and up to 90% could die within this century. Coral reef ecosystems make up a substantial percentage of marine biodiversity, and are a source of livelihood for many citizens of the world. Humans need to work together to stop the effects of climate change, which would in turn reverse coral bleaching. With my action piece, I spread awareness about coral bleaching throughout my neighborhood and friends. This would inform people and help them get involved by doing their part to reduce global warming.

Why does marine life depend on coral reef ecosystems to survive?

Marine life depends on coral reef ecosystems to survive because coral reefs provide habitats and a food source for larger predators. National Geographic states, "An estimated 4,000 fish species, and some 25 percent of marine life, depend on coral reefs at some point in their existence" (Sarah Gibbens, 2020). This highlights the sheer number of marine life that are supported by coral reef ecosystems which provide these species with shelter and an abundance of food. If coral reefs were to be wiped out, thousands of species of marine life would be forced to find a new ecosystem in which to live. All species of coral are important to life, and according to The New York Times, "The species most likely to bleach and die are staghorn coral and other root and branch corals with spaces that allow many kinds of fish to swim and gain protection. The species that seem hearty enough to survive tend to be dome-like corals, known as brain corals, which play a role in protecting against coastal erosion but are less valuable to fish and other wildlife" (Damien Cave, 2020). While some coral species may be more directly beneficial to fish species than others, all coral species will in some way benefit marine species living within coral reef ecosystems.

What is causing the coral reefs to deteriorate?

Human actions are the primary cause of coral bleaching. "Though researchers around the world are exploring ways to revive reefs, those efforts will not be enough if we do not address the root cause of their demise -- human-caused climate change", says CNN (Helen Reagan, 2020). This "human-caused climate change" is the root of the coral bleaching issue. Though methods to revive coral reefs are being discovered, it could not compensate for the negative impact climate change is having on reefs. If humans continue to emit greenhouse gases, climate change will worsen and coral reefs will suffer irreversible damage. National Geographic says, "When corals experience stress from hot temperatures, they end their symbiotic relationship with this algae" (Sarah Gibbens, 2020). Climate change causes coral reefs to expel the algae residing within  that provide them with food as well as coral's color. Though they do not immediately die when bleached, the chances of coral recovering and reverting back to their original state are slim.

"Other [human] threats [to coral reefs], NOAA states, [include] pollution, sedimentation, and unsustainable fishing practices" (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association). While natural disasters can occasionally destroy parts of the reef, a much more potent threat to the reefs are humans. We are causing the ocean temperature to rise, and corals cannot survive a warmer ocean.

How does coral bleaching negatively impact countries and the world's oceans?

Coral bleaching reduces the biodiversity of the oceans, and hurts the economy of the tourism industry. According to a study by the United Nations on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, "Coral reefs benefit about 850 million people worldwide, with at least 275 million depending directly on reefs for livelihoods and sustenance," says CNN (Helen Reagan, 2020). The coral reef tourism industry is not an insignificant one. Reef systems benefit a significant number of people around the world, with people relying on tourism for their livelihood or directly benefiting from the reefs by consuming seafood. 

 Coral helps lessen coastal erosion, which is helpful to humans and land animals that live nearby. "Over half a billion people depend on reefs for food, income, and protection," states NOAA. "The net economic value of the world's coral reefs is estimated to be nearly tens of billions of U.S. dollars per year" (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 2019). A large portion of humanity rely on coral reefs for basic necessities, such as food from the reef, and income from tourism. Those that depend on coral reefs to provide sustenance would be hard-pressed to find a new area that would be able to sustain humans in a short period of time.

What are some ways to slow and/or stop coral bleaching?

While there are some temporary solutions to preserve existing coral reefs such as creating protected spaces in the wild, the only real solution is to reduce the effects of climate change by lowering our carbon footprint. This is possible to achieve by reducing air travel, eating less red meat, and consuming less non-reusable materials, among other actions. "One option [to preserve reefs]," says National Geographic, "is to create more marine protected areas-essentially national parks in the ocean. Scientists say creating marine refuges, where fishing, mining, and recreating are off limits, make the reefs healthier, and so more resilient" (Sarah Gibbens, 2020). Scientists are trying to protect corals, and one such way is to create protected areas in the ocean where the reefs reside. This will help with reducing the amount of coral killed by humans engaging in harmful activities such as snorkeling and deliberately breaking off pieces of coral. Furthering the idea of protecting marine areas, "EPA strategically applies its Clean Water Act (CWA) regulatory and non-regulatory programs to reduce land-based sources of pollution that degrade coastal waters and coral reefs that live in them," says EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). The Clean Water Act will lessen the burden on coral reefs by reducing pollution in their waters. Less stress on the corals will also grant coral reefs the freedom to focus on building a tolerance for higher temperature waters. Another possible solution that scientists are experimenting with is grafting heat-resistant coral species onto existing reefs. "A team of researchers took fragments of coral that had survived bleaching and grew them on mesh platforms in a sandy lagoon adjacent to the [Great Barrier Reef]," states National Geographic (Kennedy Warne, 2018). The researchers hope that the propagation of more heat-resistant corals will speed up the recovery of the reef. An increase in healthy coral to the reef will encourage more marine life to live there, effectively increasing biodiversity. 

Coral bleaching is a topic that I feel passionate about, and it needs to be addressed immediately in order to ensure that coral reefs can survive for generations to come. You can help by donating to coral reef research foundations, such as, reducing carbon emissions by switching from appliances and vehicles powered by fossil fuels to electric appliances and electric vehicles, using more environmentally friendly materials, and spreading awareness about this issue.

Action piece review

The goal of my action piece is to spread awareness about this issue. If people are more mindful of their actions and actively try to reduce their carbon footprint, coral will have a better chance at surviving. I created a website to help inform more people about the dangers of coral bleaching and how to avoid it. On the website, I have a short animation of coral bleaching depicting the process in which it happens, and information about the topic. I chose this solution because coral bleaching as of now has no "silver bullet" solution. Citizens of the world have to work together to reverse effects of climate change in order to bring coral bleaching to a halt. I also wanted to integrate some art into my action piece, so I decided to make an animation.


"American Samoa's Resilient Coral Reefs." PBS.Org, 30 June 2020,

Berwyn, Bob. "Latest Bleaching of Great Barrier Reef Underscores Global Coral Crisis." Inside Climate News, 30 Nov. 2020,

Cave, Damien. "Great Barrier Reef Is Bleaching Again. It's Getting More Widespread." The New York Times, 6 Apr. 2020,

"Coral Reef Ecosystems | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,,food%2C%20income%2C%20and%20protection. Accessed 10 May 2021.

Gibbens, Sarah. "Scientists Are Trying to Save Coral Reefs. Here's What's Working." Science, 4 May 2021,

Regan, Helen. "Great Barrier Reef Suffers Third Mass Bleaching Event in Five Years." CNN, 7 Apr. 2020,

"SECORE International | Why Coral Reefs Need Our Help." Secore, Accessed 10 May 2021.

Warne, Kennedy. "New Science Could Save Dying Coral Reefs, in the Great Barrier Reef and Beyond." Environment, 3 May 2021,

"What EPA Is Doing to Protect Coral Reefs." US EPA, 4 May 2021,,zones%20of%20coral%20reef%20areas.&text=Much%20of%20EPA's%20work%20to,agencies%2C%20states%2C%20and%20territories.

Create your website for free! This website was made with Webnode. Create your own for free today! Get started