Nancy Knowlton Addresses Elon University on The Impact of Climate Change on Coral Reefs

By Megan Wanner

Nancy Knowlton addressed Elon University faculty and students about the effects of climate change on coral reefs.

Nancy Knowlton addressed Elon University faculty and students about the effects of climate change on coral reefs.

According to Nancy Knowlton, coral reefs are considered the rainforests of the sea.  There are about 1,000 total coral species and about one-third of these reef-building corals face elevated extinction risk from climate change and local impacts.  There are about 1 to 9 million reef species in total.  This constitutes about a quarter of all marine species, most of them rare.

Knowlton, the Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, spoke Wednesday on the effects of climate change on coral reefs as part of the Voices of Discovery Science Series at Elon University, N.C.

Devastation of Reefs

People are one of the main predators to coral reefs.  Humans introduce carbon dioxide, nutrients, toxics, sediments and aliens into the reefs while removing plants that are longer or taller than five centimeters, making it difficult for reefs to regenerate growth or remove the toxins that have been introduced.

Major causes of the decline of coral reefs include disease, sedimentation, invasives, bleaching, storms, seaweeds, osteoporosis and predators.  Some of these problems are local, some global, but humans play a role in each of them.

“In the Carribean we’ve lost 80 percent of all the living corals in the last 30 years,” Knowlton said.  “That is a huge loss.”

The Effects of Global Warming on Coral

As global warming causes the global temperature to rise, this causes the temperature of the oceans the reefs inhabit to increase.  Coral has a narrow thermal tolerance of one degree Celsius above its normal temperature.  Due to this narrow tolerance, what coral considers extreme heat or cold is not much and bleaching is easily triggered.  Coral bleaching is caused by a breakdown in symbiosis between coral and symbiotic algae.  This breakdown is caused by the stress of a change in heat, light, cold and dark.

With global warming comes a greater risk for more severe storms, as well as more storms in general.  It is important for people to reduce local impacts so the reefs can protect themselves and recover from natural impacts.

Ocean acidity caused by greenhouse gases makes it harder for coral to lay down skeletons to grow.  A study done showed that coral becomes sea anemones in acidified water.  Although this proved the coral could survive, sea anemones cannot build reefs.

“Over the course of really just two years we went from reefs that were dominated by corals to reefs that had almost no living coral and were covered in seaweeds,” Knowlton said.

Resilience Strategies

Knowlton highlighted various actions people could take in helping the conservation of the reefs.  Among these are conserving energy, consuming responsibly, reducing waste, voting with the environment in mind and talking to people about the risk the reefs are facing.

“I can’t tell you how many taxi drivers I have talked to about coral reefs,” Knowlton said.

On a short term and local scale there are options for helping the reefs become more resilient to destruction.  These options include controlling fishing pressure and improving water quality.  Taking these measures means buying time for the reefs for more scientific solutions to the problems they are facing.  On a longer term and global scale resilience strategies include reducing carbon dioxide emissions as well as capturing and restoring diversity.

In addition to these strategies, Knowlton addressed the idea of a deep freeze of species in order to regenerate the reef at a later time.


2 responses to “Nancy Knowlton Addresses Elon University on The Impact of Climate Change on Coral Reefs

  1. It was good to see you there, and I am looking forward to reading more.

  2. You captured tons of specific details at this event. Really good depth of reporting. It was too bad that Knowlton spent so much time talking about the problem and she waited until the last few minutes to talk about the solutions. She didn’t need to convince us there is a problem; I wish she had spent more time on what people can do and how that’s going right now.

    Subheadlines would help you retain an audience throughout this piece. You should add some in.

    You can see how the video doesn’t work very well from a distance. Always arrive early and stake out a good location and never try to use the zoom lens. It’s better to have a long, sharp shot than a fuzzy, closer shot. Some people shot a wide shot of her and the screen and it actually worked OK. Not great, but OK.

    Anyway, you can see how important your location is as a reporter. You need to get up close and really be on top of things to get visual reporting on an excellent level.

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