Why Coral Reefs (and Kelp) Matter

Yet another study was released this week cataloging how badly the oceans are suffering from global warming, this time in the journal Nature.  As is typical, it has a title that is not very accessible to the layman and does not express the urgency of the situation: “Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services”.   Unfortunately, scientists continue to believe that they need to appear dispassionate and analytical, which is welcome at times, but is also a failing approach when it comes to global warming.  As this article expresses, it really is time to panic.  (Nature also has an article that attempts to understand why scientists are so poor at communicating with laymen.  It seems pretty obvious to me, just read the title of the article.)

The study on marine heatwaves did underline something important.  It is now well understood that coral reefs around the world are perishing.  I’m sure you have heard of this but perhaps were unaware of why it is so important; it’s not because they are pretty.  Coral reefs, kelp beds, sea grasses, etc., are “critical foundation species” and are in danger of collapse from rapidly warming oceans.  These foundation species provide habitat for other species near the bottom of the food chain.  Without these foundation species the entire food web in the most diverse and populous marine environments is in danger of collapse.  This, of course, impacts all of us, especially the massive numbers of coastal dwellers who get a majority of their diet from the ocean.