The Link Between Oil Spills and Coral Reef Bleaching

The Australian government has high regard for the country’s marine life. Now that the Great Barrier Reef has been in its sickliest state, the people are voicing their desire to save the Reef through petitions and initiatives to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Now, more than ever, people are using preventative measures to save what they still can keep. Marine spill kits  can immediately prevent oil spills, and human activity in the Reef will be lessened. After all, that’s what’s causing the most damage to the Reef – humans.

Marine Oil Pollution

The government saw marine oil pollution as a local concern after a major oil spill in the Reef in 2010. Oil spills have a dramatic effect on marine life because of the direct toxicity of oil. According to a study, over 8.4 million tons of petroleum products are dispersed into oceans each year.

At this alarming rate, one can only imagine how much damage this could bring to marine life. Unfortunately, scientists and researchers were still studying the magnitude of coral reef damage caused by oil spills until the emergence of a recent phenomenon called coral reef bleaching.

Rising Temperature Levels in the Ocean

Corals are fragile, dependent creatures that can only live at certain temperature levels with specific organisms. When ocean levels rise, corals turn into unnatural neon colours that indicate sickness and stress. Algae that live with them and provide sustenance also drift away during this stage. Failure to recover turns corals white, hence the term “coral reef bleaching.”

The Cause? Man-Made Climate Change

While climate change and global warming add to rising ocean levels, human activity, specifically oil spills and drilling for fossil fuel, weighs more in contributing to coral bleaching. Apart from the direct exposure of corals to oil and petroleum, the burning of oil also affected reefs indirectly. This sends out tonnes of carbon dioxide that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The ecological role of coral reefs is often overlooked. Hence, it should be a reminder that the Great Barrier Reef houses several marine species that provide food for humans and other creatures. A careless act of oil pollution can cause total damage to the Reef sooner than expected.