Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Dying Coral Reefs: a Net Loss
The world's coral reefs are dying. Coral are very delicate organisms that thrive in a very narrow temperature range. The reefs are wonders, the eco-equivalents of tropical rainforests. they are home to a huge number of species, for which they provide a breeding and feeding ground. The assault on these magnificent lodes of aquatic life has been led by fishermen, who harvest with dynamite, the most efficient way to insure an abundant catch. This is real eco-terrorism, far worse in its effects than spiking old growth trees.
But ocean warming is proving to be much more catastrophic for teh reefs. The Economist reports that 50-95% of coral reefs in Indian Ocean are gone. It happened over a two year period, almost unthinkable. They could only stand slight, maybe up to 2 degrees C rise in temp. The recorded temperature rise was 3 degrees C. This is a local phenomenon caused by an unprecedented becalming of the Indian Ocean, allowing the spike in temperature, not representative of other oceans, but one more wake up call among many. It is the most extreme case of a scenario that is being repeated around the world. All coral reefs are at risk due to ocean warming. And if the reefs go, then a large chunk of species die with them, as much as 25% of all ocean creatures.
Reeling from this information, I found my mind inexplicably filled with that image of the little girl fleeing the burning village in Vietnam, naked. I guess this is my image of habitat destruction. The inundation of the Indian Maldives would be more appropriate, since all the inhabitants of those Indian Ocean reefs are now homeless, nowhere to breed and eat. The village in Vietnam has been rebuilt, and that little girl now probably has children and grandchildren.
We human beings are clever, inventive and flexible - "amphibilous" as the wonderful seventeenth century preacher-poet Thomas Browne once called us. But without our context, our earth home in its endless variety, we cannot live. We are nothing. We will all die, for we are but one link in the chain that our actions are rapidly destroying.
Hindus and Buddhists have a marvelous image for our interrelationships with other humans and the cosmos: the jeweled net of Indra, where every one of us is jewel reflecting all the others. Imagining this as a neural net, it is the wondrous feedback loop which connects us to all sentient life everywhere. But if the electricity in the circuits dies, then the whole fabulous net is but an ossified piece of crystal, a museum piece for future beings to marvel at. Like a dead coral reef.
Sir Thomas Browne was neither a poet or preacher. He was however a physician and a philosopher
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