Coral Bleaching Another Canary in the Coal Mine

As the world’s oceans get warmer, that heating is becoming a danger to the diverse ecosystems that live along their edges. Last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a new report confirming that the world’s coral reefs are undergoing what researchers say is likely to be “the most widespread and most severe bleaching event on record.” At least 54 percent of the world’s coral has already experienced “bleaching level heat stress” in the past year, and that percentage is increasing by one percent per week.

The coral reefs ringing tropical ocean coastlines from the Caribbean and northern South America to East Africa to South Asia and Australia, are limestone ecosystems that are vital habitats for nearly one-quarter of all oceanic species. They are also important economically since they protect and nurture a huge portion of coastal fish that are important parts of local human economies and diets. The loss of these ecosystems is not just a loss of natural beauty and diverse life itself, it is another canary in the coal mine for humans, indicating that yet another one of the natural processes upon which we rely is under threat, and may be close to a tipping point. The Amazon forest and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) are two other such “canaries” that scientists think may be approaching tipping points.

This bleaching event is yet another direct effect of the global heating caused by emissions from fossil fuels. As those emissions cause increasing atmospheric temperatures, the earth’s oceans also absorb that heat, and these increases in ocean temperatures have also shattered previous records. These higher temperatures are causing the bleaching of the coral reefs throughout the world.

The capitalist drive for profit is endangering every aspect of life on earth. Nowhere is safe. Neither fish nor coral in the sea, not the vast forests in South America or Canada, not low-lying coastal regions, not the flat plains where we grow much of our food, and not even us in our cities, suburbs, and villages. This system is threatening our very ability to exist on this planet.