We've all heard the buzz around global warming and glaciers. And while most of us aren't trekking around on uninhabited Arctic tundra, here's a heads up if you’re planning that vacation to escape the chilly work commute. Climate change is not affecting only the cold, desolate reaches of this planet. It’s also starting to impact paradise.
In a story aired on NPR last week, experts described the effects of an event known as "bleaching" on Jamaica's coral reefs. When the water heats up too much, stressed coral releases the algae that it needs to survive from its stomach cells, which leaves the coral looking white—or bleached—and in many cases, dead.
If trends continue, says the report, "severe coral bleaching in the Caribbean could be an annual event." Like glaciers, coral reefs are important indicators of climate change. Because they are some of the most biodiverse spots on the planet—perhaps even more so than rain forests—reefs are being studied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to gauge climate change. NOAA has called reefs the "canary in the mine shaft" for the world’s oceans.
And one more warning to vacationers: Go a little easier when slathering on that sunscreen. It turns out that the lotion we use to protect ourselves from UV rays is actually damaging the reef.
A National Geographic report estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen is sloughed off by swimmers across the world, causing additional bleaching events. Scientists recommend using sunscreens with physical filters, which reflect instead of absorb ultraviolet radiation, and suggest choosing eco-friendly chemical sunscreens to reduce the impact on the coral.
But don't put that scuba gear up on eBay just yet—in reaction to such dangers, the International Coral Reef Initiative has dubbed 2008 the "International Year of the Reef,"to raise awareness about their plight. For more information on climate change, including coral bleaching, make sure to watch Six Degrees Could Change the World, National Geographic's newest documentary, set to air February 10 on the National Geographic Channel.