Coral reefs at risk

Increasing CO2 and methane in the atmosphere put sea life in jeopardy

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Climate change, Part 2
“We are seeing coral reefs destroyed; we are seeing oceans becoming increasingly acidic,” offered Scott McNall, the author of Rapid Climate Change: Causes, Consequences and Solutions (available at Lyon Books), in a recent conversation I had with him.

As if the destruction wreaked by an increase in atmospheric CO2 wasn’t enough, “Peat bogs in Siberia are beginning to melt and give off methane gas. Methane is about 20 times more powerful than CO2 in terms of its ability to trap greenhouse gases.”

McNall, who teaches sociology at Chico State, speaks effortlessly when it comes to the topic of climate change. His sentences are so “meaty” that just a few of them gives one plenty to investigate.

It seems that the surface temperature of the Earth’s oceans is becoming warmer due to the action of the increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. As a portion of this CO2 is absorbed by the water’s surface, the water also becomes increasingly acidic. Increased acidity inhibits corals’ ability to form their skeletons. Increasing water temperature causes the microalgae that inhabit coral polyps to die, resulting in “coral bleaching.” Because the microalgae provide the corals with nutrition, the end result of coral bleaching is death for the corals.

“Put simply…the more CO2 we humans liberate, the harder it will become for coral reefs, as we know them, to survive,” said Dr. Ken Anthony, of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute (see “A failure to rapidly stabilize and reduce the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is likely to lead to significant loss of key [coral] framework builders.”

So what?

“Despite only comprising about 0.2 percent of the area of the oceans, coral reefs host a quarter of all marine fish species and perhaps 1 [million] to 3 million marine species in total,” according to YaleGlobal Online ( Destruction of coral reefs equals bad news for the millions of people around the world who rely on them for seafood, for one thing.

As for methane, the situation is just as worrying, if not more so. As frozen Siberian peat bogs heat up, bubbles of methane trapped beneath the surface are released into the atmosphere, causing more atmospheric warming that causes more melting and releasing of methane. A vicious circle, to say the least.

(More on climate change next week…)

Christianne Belles, owner of Home Ec—downtown Chico’s newest groovy shop—arranges items in a display of Zen Zen fair-trade pillows, potholders, sachets and stuffed elephants.

Photo By christine g.k. lapado

Why I love downtown Chico:
Because we get to have shops such as the brand-new Home Ec (231 Main St., 343-5686), which had its well-attended grand opening July 12. Owner Christianne Belles, who has come back to the town of her birth after a stint in Seattle working for Nordstrom, has created a fine, funky store featuring such wonderful items as the GurglePot (a fish-shaped ceramic water-pitcher that makes a gurgling sound when you pour from it), Canadian Jesse Herbert’s sturdy leather-and-wood bicycle wine-bottle holder, an interesting selection of books that includes Julie Jackson’s Subversive Cross Stitch, reusable organic-cotton sandwich bags, and letterpress cards by local wife-and-hubby outfit Wild Ink Press.

Belles (pictured) is super friendly, and her store is full of fun stuff. Check it out.