Beneath the crystal-clear waters of our planet’s oceans lies a mesmerizing ecosystem filled with vibrant colors, intricate structures, and a breathtaking array of marine life. Coral reefs, often referred to as the rainforests of the sea, are some of the most diverse and complex ecosystems on Earth. Let us embark on a journey to unravel the wonders of coral reefs and understand why they are not only beautiful but also crucial to our planet’s health. Our goal is to raise awareness about the endangerment of corals and to show ways to protect them. We have been very lucky to work with remarkable individuals, such as an Indonesian snorkeler and an expert who has worked a lot in Australia. Their in-depth expertise and passionate commitment have been of great benefit to our project and have enhanced our understanding and impact.
What Are Coral Reefs?
Coral reefs are diverse underwater ecosystems made up of colonies of tiny animals called coral polyps. These polyps shed a hard calcium carbonate exoskeleton that forms the structure of the reef. Coral reefs are usually found in clear, warm and shallow tropical waters, but can also be found in colder regions. Coral reefs also play a key role in the overall health of the oceans, protecting coasts from the risk of erosion, providing a source of food for local communities, and promoting tourism and marine activities.
Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, video presentation by Dr. James T. Kerry:
What are some of the most pressing threats facing coral reefs today?
“Climate change is overwhelmingly the biggest impact. It is estimated that at a temperature rise of 2 degrees above pre-industrial average we could lose 99% of coral reefs due to coral bleaching and ocean acidification (where the calcium carbonate that corals used to build their skeletons is at too low a concentration in the seawater). Climate change is also implicated in severe extreme weather events such as extreme rainfall events, which can lead to freshwater runoff on reefs and reduce water quality. Cyclones and hurricanes are also thought to be strengthened by climate change, and these can smash coral reefs causing severe mechanical damage over a wide area. But most impactful of all is coral bleaching”, said James Kerry, a marine biologist, we were lucky enough to interview.
Coral bleaching occurs when the temperature of water rises excessively. Corals undergo the process of expelling the algae (known as zooxanthellae) that reside within their tissues, resulting in the coral turning entirely white. Despite the bleaching, corals remain alive. However, they experience heightened stress levels and become more susceptible to mortality.
The corals face another dangerous threat in the form of a toxic starfish. An adult crown-of-thorns starfish can consume up to 10 m2 of coral a year. Similar to other starfish, they feed by pushing their stomach out through their mouth, covering their coral prey with digestive enzymes and converting coral tissue into a coral soup. Programmes have been started to combat the spread of crown-of-thorns starfish. These initiatives use special vessels with trained crews to manually eliminate the starfish through lethal injections of bile salts or household vinegar. The aim is to control their population growth, as they reproduce rapidly and in large numbers.
What can individuals and communities do to help protect and preserve coral reefs?
James Kerry answered: “The most impactful thing that we can all do as individuals is to push our governments, industries and local communities to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Commitments, without this we will not limit global warming to 1.5 degrees – we are currently way short of our commitments globally. As individuals we all have to play our part in reducing emissions, but it is governments and industries that are the key to solving this problem.” The whole interview is uploaded as a PDF for anyone who wants to read it.
We were fortunate enough to have contact and work closely with international students as well as experts.
Our first collaboration started off with Steve, an Indonesian diver. For Steve is diving his passion. He loves to discover the underwater world and visits the corals in his area every day, that is how he knows them inside out. As he does not have a good internet connection in Indonesia, it was very difficult to conduct an interview with him. However, he was able to send us some insightful pictures. The cover picture is Steve next to a breathtaking coral reef in Indonesia.
We had the pleasure of collaborating with James Kerry, a renowned marine biologist. We had the opportunity to interview him and benefit greatly from his extensive expertise in this field. We express deep gratitude for his valuable assistance and the insights he shared with us. James has worked in politics, communications, academia and government. He was part of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce that responded to the mass coral bleaching over the Great Barrier Reef from 2016-2020. He now lives in Switzerland with his wife and young family.
We were fortunate to have Sivani, a brilliant student from India, as our third collaborator. She is a passionate second-year computer science student who finds joy in coding and actively participating in various societies. She believes in the power of collaboration and constantly seeks opportunities to learn and grow. Being part of an international collaboration excites her as it provides a platform to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds and exchange ideas. She is eager to contribute her expertise and work alongside talented individuals who are as passionate as she is. Sivani helped us develop interview questions and showed great enthusiasm for our project. We are sincerely grateful for the opportunity to meet and work with her, as well as for her valuable contributions throughout this period.
We also had the privilege of working with three students from Dubai, who made significant contributions with their innovative ideas. These students proved to be of great value in their efforts to identify platforms and locations to promote our project, thereby expanding its reach to a wider audience. Their dedication and willingness to explore new avenues were truly admirable.
Experience and reflection
We are satisfied with the outcome and final product. Along the way, we had the pleasure of meeting wonderful individuals who brought unique perspectives and knowledge to our project. Each interaction provided us with valuable insights, and we are truly appreciative for the opportunity to learn and grow together. Throughout the process, we gained valuable insights into effectively communicating with international contacts. We recognized the importance of considering diverse time zones and adapting our communication accordingly. Our experience allowed us to develop teamwork skills and improve our communication within our group. This experience has taught us a lot and we are immensely grateful for it.
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