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In a new study published this week in the journal Nature, scientists report that nearly one-third of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living structures, was killed when ocean temperatures spiked in 2016. The underwater heat wave that damaged large areas of the Great Barrier Reef now has scientists wondering if it will ever be the same again.

“The reef is changing faster than anyone thought it would,” Terry P. Hughes, the lead author of the study and the director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Queensland, told the New York Times.

Rising ocean temperatures result in coral reefs bleaching, which is a process where the coral’s colorful, symbiotic algae that help keep it nourished dies off. The coral’s white skeleton is left behind and because it doesn’t have a source of nourishment, it becomes more susceptible to disease that can prohibit future growth. Without new growth, the coral dies.

As the New York Times shared, Austraila’s Great Barrier Reef is home to thousands of species, including sharks, turtles, and whales. What’s more, Australia relies on the coral reef for about 70,000 jobs and billions of dollars annually in tourism revenue. Now, that is all in jeopardy.

So, what is to blame? Simply put, climate change. Now it might seem like if that is the cause of this massive amount of destruction, then there is nothing we can do about it. That is categorically false. And we bet you don’t even recognize where the largest part of your impact is coming from … just look at your plate.

Industrial animal agriculture is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. This destructive industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector combined. Industrialized animal agriculture also causes water pollution by releasing toxic farm runoff from manure and fertilizer into our water supplies.

The scientists noted that is greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, the reef will be unrecognizable. “We’re in unchartered territory. Where we end up depends completely on how well or how badly we deal with climate change,” said Professor Hughes in the New York Times.

We’ve already lost 27 percent of the world’s coral since the 1980s, and it’s expected that number will increase to 60 percent over the next 30 years. Coral reefs used to have decades to recover from the stress that causes bleaching, but bleaching incidents are now so frequent that coral reefs are on the losing end of the battle. But we MUST keep fighting to help give coral reefs the chance they deserve.

The best way to help coral reefs? It’s simple: leave meat and dairy off of your plate and opt for plant-based foods instead. By simply leaving animal products off of your plate for a year, you can cut your carbon footprint in HALF. Reducing your plastic use and leaving fish off the menu to help our oceans are also great efforts to take.

To learn more about the environmental impact of our food choices and how we can help heal the world, check out the #EatForThePlanet book.

 

Image Source: Derek Keats/Wikimedia

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