Coral bleaching is one of the most serious and devastating effects of global warming that is happening in our oceans right now. All across the planet, corals are bleaching because they are too warm. The scale of the bleaching means that the corals find it difficult to recover and ultimately die.
According to the BBC, the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its corals since 1995. This is caused by mass bleaching events that wipe out huge amounts of the coral colonies in the area. This is directly linked to global warming as the corals simply cannot cope with the changing of temperatures. Because of this stress, they expel the zooxanthellae that live in their tissue, which is bleaching. As the zooxanthellae provide nutrients to the corals, the corals are vulnerable to disease and death.
This is occuring fast. The rate of coral reefs dying is extremely worrying. This means that we need to act now, and therefore scientists are working hard to develop ways in which we can protect coral reefs from global warming and heat stress. One innovative project is called a sun shield. This is a super exciting idea, but what exactly is it and will it really protect corals from bleaching?
The Sun Shield Project
According to National Geographic, this project has been developed by the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. It is the idea that, because corals suffer from heat stress which then causes bleaching, removing some of the sunlight that gets to the corals will therefore mean that bleaching is less likely.
The sun shield is made out of calcium carbonate and is designed to sit on the surface of the water, floating above the coral reefs. This then blocks sunlight, creating a cooler environment for the corals. This sun shield is biodegradable and, according to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, 500,000 times thinner than human hair.
Will It Work?
This project is still in the early stages, but there have been lab tests that seem hopeful. According to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the early tests have been encouraging. Scientists used the Sea Simulator in the Australian Institute of Marine Science to test how the film affected different coral species. They replicated coral bleaching event conditions and studied how the different coral colonies reacted both with and without the sun shield.
They found that the film did indeed reduce the light that the corals received by up to 30%. This gave the corals protection from heat stress. The scientists found that the sun shield reduced the level of bleaching in most of the coral species tested.
This is a really exciting and hopeful development, suggesting that there might be ways to protect corals from heat stress and global warming.
Are Other Scientists Working On Similar Projects?
The sun shield project is interesting and gives us hope that soon scientists will be able to protect corals from environmental stressors. This project, however, is not just the only one that looks at protecting corals from the changes in the ocean caused by global warming, heat, and sunlight.
One project that is being developed by the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program is cooling and shading. This is the idea that we can provide ways of cooling the water and shading the corals that mean they are protected and less likely to go through bleaching. This program is looking at ways in which we can cool and shade coral reefs on a large scale, with the hope that we can protect the entire Great Barrier Reef this way. The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program also mentions the hope of using films in order to protect coral reefs, but are also looking into creating shade by clouds, mist, or fog.
If we manage to shade the corals and protect them from sunlight, the risk of bleaching will be reduced. Because of this, there are other projects and scientists that are concentrating on the idea of shading to save our coral reefs. According to the Guardian, in March of 2020, scientists trialed a prototype cloud brightening equipment as a way to shade and cool the Great Barrier Reef.
This project used a turbine with a hundred high-pressure nozzles which spray trillions of tiny ocean salt crystals into the air. The scientists hoped that these small salt crystals would mix with the clouds and reflect sunlight away from the ocean’s surface.
The project was led by Daniel Harrison of Southern Cross University and he claims that this technology is relatively cheap, and therefore can be scaled up and put to work all around the world. Cloud brightening is something that occurs naturally, and this project is boosting the phenomena in the hope that it will help coral reefs. However, the results of if it actually works is not yet known.
Is It Feasible To Protect Coral Reefs This Way?
There are so many innovative and exciting projects that scientists are developing in order to protect coral reefs from the sun. These are interesting projects, and if put to place, may slow down the destruction of coral reefs that humans have begun.
However, these projects are all in their early stages and the scientists do not know if they will work. There are so many different important factors when developing technology that protects corals, and it takes time in doing so. We also do not know the feasibility of using these technologies on a bigger scale. There are so many coral reefs around the world that need saving, and sometimes scientists discover new reefs!
But, we must thank the scientists for doing this amazing work. Without them, there would really be no hope for coral reefs. Perhaps a cooling or shading project will be the answer, but most likely, there will be more than one answer. A combination of projects and technologies, from coral gardening to DNA editing, will ultimately be the answer to the problem of coral bleaching.