Global Warming Is Killing Coral Reefs—Scientists Say Sunscreen Could Save Them

Friday, 06 April 2018 - 10:54AM
Science News
Friday, 06 April 2018 - 10:54AM
Global Warming Is Killing Coral Reefs—Scientists Say Sunscreen Could Save Them
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Image credit: YouTube

Coral reefs are dying. The world's largest coral reef, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, is going extinct very fast, thanks to man-made climate change.


Changes in the water have affected the ocean's acidity level, while the reef bakes under increased UV radiation from the sun. As a side effect of flying to Australia to visit the Great Barrier Reef, humans around the world have contributed to the destruction of the natural wonderland they were so eager to see in person.

A team of Australian scientists has come up with a potential plan for helping to protect the remaining parts of the reef from the ongoing assault that humanity is inflicting upon the fragile environment.

If too much sunlight is the problem, then the solution, logically, must be sunscreen.


Anyone who's ever touched a piece of coral (and discovered how sharp it can be) will be well aware that it's not practical to slather white goop all over the entire Barrier Reef. Instead, the proposal involves coating the surface of the oceanic water above the reef in a fine powder of calcium carbonate, which will block much of the harmful UV rays so that the coral can take it easy for a while.

Calcium carbonate is the material that coral is made out of, which means that, with luck, dumping a bunch of chalky powder into the reef won't cause any nasty side effects (although you never can tell with this kind of plan). With any luck, the sunscreen will be a temporary measure - the hope is that, rather than permanently protecting the coral, the calcium carbonate will allow for an easier transition period, helping the reef to build up its defenses as the climate on Earth continues to change rapidly.

In the words of Dr. David Solomon of the University of Melbourne, who is a senior adviser on the project:

Opening quote
"Our aim is to give the coral time to adjust to the changed conditions of high temperature and doses of UV light so that the coral forms different chemical structures that can survive."
Closing quote

Essentially, the plan is to try and buy the reef time until evolution provides the coral with enough tenacity to be able to withstand whatever awful effect our species has on this habitat.

Alas, even though it won't involve hand-painting every chunk of pointy coral, protecting the entire Great Barrier Reef is unfeasible. Coating a 130,000 square mile area of water in powder and then hoping it won't wash away isn't an ideal strategy for conservationism.

As such, some experts involved with the proposal suggest that it's more logical to try and spare specific areas of the reef so that at least something survives.

By an astounding coincidence, the areas that are most likely to receive sunscreen treatment are the ones that are near to popular tourist hotspots. Apparently, we still have big lessons to learn about what human behavior is causing this problem in the first place.

But, hey, if a small piece of the once-mighty Great Barrier Reef can be saved, then at least it's something. Even if the remaining piece of coral is being used to encourage yet more environmental destruction.

Science News