the great barrier reef is the largest living structure in the world. it is approximately the length of the east coast of the united states and can be seen from space. the 2,900 individual reefs making up the great barrier reef lie along the coast of australia.
coral are animals that rely on algae living in their tissue for food and nutrients. the algae gives coral their brilliant color. but, when the ocean temperatures rise just 2º c above the average, the coral expel their algae and lose their color, or bleach. if conditions return to normal, coral can recover from mass bleaching. but if too many bleaching events occur in a short time period, coral die and seaweed population skyrockets. brown, hazy seaweed forests are left on the skeletons of dead coral.
when this happens, the reef can no longer support the other species relying on it, and the area loses almost all of its biodiversity. in addition to absorbing heat from the atmosphere, the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide and converts it into carbonic acid, which causes ocean acidification. once the ph of the ocean is low enough, coral skeletons become soluble in seawater. then, they will dissolve, acting like a giant antacid tablet.
the great barrier reef has been deemed terminal. this is the beginning of a collapse of the entire ecosystem, because without a healthy ocean we do not have a healthy planet. catastrophic global warming has arrived. the sixth mass extinction is already underway, and corals are only the first victim. the death of the great barrier reef needs to mean something.